Texas facing hundreds of trooper vacancies

August 22, 2009 6:40:34 AM PDT
A Texas program to boost the law enforcement presence along the U.S.-Mexico border by temporarily reassigning state troopers from other parts of the state is contributing to a critical personnel shortage in the Texas Department of Public Safety, according to a state audit. An audit of the department by a state commission found that the program, dubbed Operation Border Star, contributed to DPS' "critical personnel shortage, weakening its ability to protect the public."

Critics of the program charge the result is an increased presence in border areas such as the Rio Grande Valley, but a scarcity in other parts of the state, The McAllen Monitor reported.

"We see dissatisfaction from troopers who feel they are not allowed to actually do their enforcement jobs," said Claude Hart, executive director of the Texas State Troopers Association -- a statewide union comprised of 1,400 DPS employees. "Rather they just ride around maintaining a presence."

Gov. Rick Perry started Operation Border Star in 2007 to help combat drug smuggling and other crime along the border.

DPS declined to say how many troopers are assigned to Border Star at any one time, but the audit determined that the program "causes a loss of personnel available to focus on traditional law enforcement duties."

There are more than 314 vacancies for commissioned officers in the department.

In a memo to his superiors made public earlier this year, Sgt. Adam Kinslow, who was assigned to the security detail at the state Capitol, warned that operations like Border Star had compromised his ability to protect visitors and state property.

"Not only do we not have the manpower to spare, many of the troopers we are sending to the border lack current training and recent experience in patrol procedures, which is unsafe for them and the public," Kinslow wrote. "By sending troopers to Operation Border Star, security is weakened at the Capitol."

Ten days after he sent his memo, the Governor's Mansion was destroyed by arson.

Department spokesman Tim Vinger said Operation Border Star cant be blamed for the vacancies. During the past four years, state legislators have created more than 266 new commissioned officer positions, inlcuding 80 primarily designated for the border region. The department also loses about 200 commissioned officers a year through retirements, terminations and voluntary attrition.

DPS expects to add 80 new troopers statewide from an upcoming class of recruits in September, Vinger said.

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