AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Audit report: State patrol can't close posts due to political pressure

Auditors released a report in late 2011 saying that the state patrol had too many posts around Georgia and that troopers tended to spend too much time behind desks.

It also concluded that too fewer troopers were on the road at the right times, in the places they're needed.

State patrol officials disputed some of the findings at the time, but they also said the audit caused them to take another look at staffing.

In a followup report issued Monday, auditors said the Georgia State Patrol has made some changes recommended by audit, but hasn't done anything to address concerns about the number and location of patrol posts.

"GSP leadership stated that they are unable to close posts due to political pressure," the followup report said. "In addition, GSP states local governments approach GSP and request a post in their area.

"GSP states local governments request a post due to revenue generation since the ticket revenue generated by troopers is retained by the locality in which the ticket is written."

In the original audit in 2011, the Department of Audits and Accounts said the state could save more than $1 million a year by cutting the patrol's 48 posts in half. That would eliminate administrative jobs and enable the patrol to put more than 100 troopers on the road.

Public Safety Commissioner Mark McDonough said at the time that those figures were unrealistic. He said eliminating the posts wouldn’t necessarily increase the number of troopers available for highway patrol. And laying off the secretaries at those posts would eliminate the local connection to the community, he said.

McDonough said Monday that the state patrol is about to open its 52nd patrol post.

The commissioner said auditors "don't understand what our role is."

McDonough said his agency, by state law, is supposed to aid local law enforcement. "The local needs in law enforcement are not the same in Stephens County as in Fulton County," he said.

The commissioner said local governments pay for the post facilities and state troopers don't have an incentive to write tickets because locals, not his agency, get the revenue. The original audit said troopers write slightly more warnings than tickets.

Since the audit, the state patrol has developed productivity performance measures, such as increasing the number of traffic stops troopers are expected to make and the amount of time troopers spend on patrol.

The original audit said most staffing resources were allocated Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Staffing dropped significantly after 8 p.m. and during the weekend.

"GSP's staffing continues to be low during the times of the day and days of the week with higher incidences of fatal accidents and impaired driving," the followup report said. "GSP states if there were an abundance of personnel it could more sufficiently allocate staff during peak hours."

McDonough said working traffic wrecks during the day in places like Atlanta frees up local police to handle potential crime calls.

The state report noted that the state patrol has reallocated six troopers to a new Middle Georgia Nighthawks Task Force that focuses on drunk driving investigations and primarily operates at night and on the weekend. It also said the state patrol has allocated staffing better based on potential workload, working a higher percentage of accidents in most counties auditors looked at. And the patrol substantially increased staffing in Cobb and Gwinnett counties.

The commissioner praised Gov. Nathan Deal for including money in his budget plans in recent years to add state troopers to the force. He said Georgia has the lowest number of troopers per capita in the nation.





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About the Author

James Salzer has covered state government and politics in Georgia since 1990.