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Eye On Boise

Chief: ISP understaffing is causing safety concerns for officers, public

The Idaho State Police is so understaffed that Col. Ralph Powell, ISP director, told legislative budget writers this morning it's causing safety concerns for both officers and the public. A state study that examined the number of miles of state and federal highways the ISP patrols concluded that it needs 94 additional troopers; it also concluded that ISP needs 14 more detective positions just to maintain current caseloads. “In most of our investigations offices, our staffing levels have plummeted, leaving our detectives to have to choose among the most serious investigations while putting other cases on hold,” Powell told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

He related how state troopers tracked a shooting suspect who shot into a vehicle near Boise, then shot at another vehicle east of Mountain Home, and finally was arrested near Wendell. “It was only after traveling 100 miles that he was apprehended,” Powell said. “Our closest trooper was 100 miles away from the incident. During this time the public was at significant risk.” Coverage on Idaho’s roads is so thin, Powell said, that “If you are stopped by one of our troopers, you are, indeed, very fortunate.” Five of the state’s six districts lack 24-hour coverage.

ISP requested 33 new positions next year, including 15 patrol officers and six detectives – it lost six detectives two years ago to budget cuts.  Gov. Butch Otter has recommended 15 new positions, including six patrol officers and four detectives. The governor’s budget reflects an 11.7 percent increase in state funding for ISP, but just 4.4 percent in total funds. That’s in part because some chunks of ISP’s budget that were temporarily shifted onto dedicated funds during the recession would now be shifted back to state funding. The governor’s recommendation also includes $3.9 million for replacement items, from ballistic vests to motorcycles, police cars, and a new Suburban for the executive protection division, costing $48,200 including equipment and installation.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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