‘Busting at the seams’: Facing trooper shortage, RI State Police forced to do more with less

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police is sounding the alarm about a trooper shortage.

Col. James Manni testified about the situation earlier this week in front of the R.I. House Finance Subcommittee on Public Safety.

“The State Police is on the verge of a personnel crisis between retirements and turnover,” he said. “I cannot sugarcoat this. Quite honestly, we’re busting at the seams.”

Manni said the agency’s responsibilities have increased dramatically, but the number of troopers on the force is the same as what it was 10 years ago.

Right now, he said they’re doing more with less, including investigating 87,000 claims of unemployment fraud during the pandemic and responding to roughly 300 sexual assault complaints from just the first four months of this year.

Manni said their efforts to recruit new troopers aren’t keeping pace.

“State Police started recruiting on April 1 of this year,” he said. “Currently we have about 380 applicants. We normally would expect about 2,000 applicants in the same time frame.”

12 News Law Enforcement Analyst and former Rhode Island State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell said there’s an elephant in the room when it comes to lackluster interest in young people joining law enforcement.

“I think everybody knows and a lot of people don’t want to say it: In your right mind, what person would want to be a police officer when, in their mind, accurately or inaccurately, they feel like they’re going to be scrutinized beyond scrutinized?” he said.

Manni said they’re also having a difficult time retaining current troopers, with some being forced into mandatory retirement and others seeking new opportunities with agencies like the FBI, DEA and the Massachusetts State Police.

When it comes to retention, O’Donnell believes there are multiple issues at play.

“I think it’s like a perfect storm, to tell you the truth,” O’Donnell said. “With all the things out there, opportunities to do other things, and job satisfaction for anybody in any profession… matters.”

Another factor Manni flagged is the state of police barracks, which are crumbling and haven’t been renovated in decades. Manni hopes to secure the funding needed to make some major improvements, which he believes will boost trooper morale.

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