Utah Highway Patrol Suffers Huge Loss in Numbers

Story by Allexis Gonzalez
Keeping Utah highways safe from speeders and drunk and distracted drivers alike has long been the responsibility of the Utah Highway Patrol task force. But according to Officer Steve Martin, a Utah Highway Patrolman of 20 years, the number of applicants and sworn full-time officers has been consistently dropping for the last few years.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ most recent report, Utah’s number of full-time sworn personnel is down 11.7 percent — the largest reported decrease in the nation. Officer Peppers, a relatively new trooper, says that joining and remaining at UHP hasn’t been easy.

What’s keeping sworn troopers from staying and potential applicants from ever swearing in? According to Martin, being a cop has never been easy, that much hasn’t changed. Martin states that one of the issues that face UHP officers is that, “There just aren’t too many jobs that a cop can take when they decide to retire.” Mix in the negative publicity police officers have been facing lately and all the policy changes in retirement benefits the UHP has gone through in the past nine years and the job is harder than ever before.

One of the big changes in benefits policy that UHP has undergone is the length of service and percentage officers can takeaway at retirement. Back in the late 90s, when Martin first entered the UHP police force, there was a standard 20-year service to retirement and 55 percent take-home of earned benefits. Nowadays, according to Martin, there’s a 25 years of service minimum before retirement and only a 33 percent take-home of earned benefits.

These aren’t the only changes UHP has undergone, however. The department has also undergone major policy changes in sick leave and health care benefits.

“Back in the day, you used to be able to stay in the force longer. Prior to 2006, every 8 hours of sick leave was a month worth of health coverage paid for when you retired. Officers used to never take sick days so they could build up enough medical insurance post retirement to carry them over into Medicaid,” Martin said. However, in 2006, sick leave policy changed and those extra racked-up sick days were put toward a 401(k). But, according to Martin, just last year, this too was taken away and, “Now sick leave doesn’t mean anything, so officers will just take the day off even for just a mild cold, which means less troopers and manpower on the road.”

Gone are the days when officers had incentive to stay in the force and retire because they were good and ready to enter retirement. These days, many officers, like Martin, leave the force disenchanted and not because they’re ready to enter the restful days of retirement but to find work elsewhere. When Martin first entered the UHP, in 1995, there were about a 1,000 applicants interviewing for the job, whereas now they’re lucky to get even 70 applicants.

With the job of UHP officers more challenging than in days past, low morale due to loss of benefits, and less public approval, the future for Utah Highway Patrol and the safety of our highways, from Martin’s perspective, isn’t looking as great as it once had. “UHP is now even offering troopers a $500 bonus to bring in a friend or family member who gets hired on, but I wouldn’t even recommend it to anybody,” Martin said. “It’s kind of dangerous and the police are more hated than ever before.”