STATE BUDGET More funding allows for more Pa. troopers
A third of existing troopers will undergo 'civilianization.'
HARRISBURG (AP) -- The new state budget includes money to put 180 additional state troopers on the streets, but half the funding is being withheld until the union and administration can cut a deal on hiring civilians for jobs currently performed by sworn officers.
The administration plans to deploy up to 39 percent of the new troopers to patrol interstate highways in Philadelphia, and critics say that would leave rural areas that rely on state police for coverage no better off than they are now.
About a third of the 180 are existing troopers that will be freed up by the process of "civilianization," or hiring cheaper nontroopers to perform the same duties. Job classifications being considered for conversion include ballistics, fingerprint and document analysts; liquor-code enforcement positions; communications officers; and those working in procurement and supply.
The department has not decided which jobs it wants nontroopers to fill, nor has it determined the schedule for the transition, although the legislation calls for it to occur in the current fiscal year.
Those details will be among the logistical issues that the administration and the troopers' union will have to resolve.
"It's not like we're going to take these people and throw them right back on the street," said state police spokeswoman Trooper Linette Quinn. "Some of these people have been off the street for years. There's a lot of training needed."
The total appropriation in the new law was $8.3 million, but Quinn said it's unclear how much the program will cost.
Generally, prosecutors slightly prefer forensic experts who are not uniformed troopers, although high-quality analysis is the most important factor in how well an expert will play to a jury, said Cumberland County District Attorney Skip Ebert.
"Anything you can do to separate the fact that a trooper has brought a charge and now a brother or sister trooper is helping to make the case, it probably does make it look more impartial if it's just a civilian employee of the agency," Ebert said.
Philadelphia is getting many of the new troopers -- perhaps more than 70 -- because it was the only place in the state where local police patrolled interstate highways.
"This really brings Philadelphia in line with the rest of the state," said Kate Philips, spokeswoman for Gov. Ed Rendell, a former Philadelphia mayor. "It's appropriate. It's fair. But up until now finding a way to do that has eluded Philadelphia."
The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association union, which fought previous efforts to begin civilianization, reacted coolly to the plan.
Union president Sgt. Bruce Edwards said, "Our concern still is, are we going to get enough troopers to get relief around the rest of the state, where we've been hurting all along?"
Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, an advocate of increased trooper numbers, said diverting so many of the additional troopers to Philadelphia will be unfair to the rest of the state.
"Once again, the suburban and rural communities are going to be losing out to Philadelphia for the sake of politics," said Marsico, who expects to seek additional troopers in next year's budget as well.