SALEM — Republicans say they will back Gov. Kate Brown’s effort to start rebuilding the Oregon State Police, which today is staffed at the same levels as in 1969, when the state had half the number of residents as today.

Many in the GOP oppose portions of Brown’s new budget that proposes $2 billion for education, new taxes for health care and a likely cap on carbon emissions.

But the proposal to fill up to 50 trooper positions is popular with Republicans and well as Democrats.

Today’s state police staffing works out to roughly eight troopers per 100,000 state residents. Florida is the only state with a worse ratio.

“With fewer troopers around the state, our highways are less safe and our rural communities experience severely delayed response times,” Brown said in her budget message.

State police officials would like to get that number up to 15 per 100,000 — good enough only to move Oregon to the middle of the list of 50 states. Still, that would mean nearly doubling the current number of troopers by the end of the next decade.

Under the Oregon State Police’s 10-year plan, the number of troopers and sergeants would rise from about 381 today to 723 in 2030. The current number of troopers in Bend would go from 20 to 34. La Pine would go from 5 to 16. Prineville would see a jump from 4 to 11, while Madras would go from 5 to 12.

Democrats currently hold a supermajority in both the House and Senate, so they will decide if the governor’s proposal comes to fruition. But GOP leaders said the state police funding is one aspect of the governor’s spending plan they can get behind.

Tayleranne Gillespie, communications director for Senate Minority Leader Jackie Winters, R-Salem, said Winters was still reviewing the specifics of the various budget proposals but was inclined to back the state police request.

“She is supportive of increasing funding for the Oregon State Police as they have long been underfunded,” Gillespie said.

Hugh Ady, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said GOP leadership would like to see even more funding for the state police.

“We support more money for law enforcement,” Ady said. “We want the Oregon State Police to be fully staffed. Enforcing the law and promoting public safety is a primary responsibility of government.”

A key change to funding came in 1980, when the state disconnected state police funding from the gas tax. After that, the state police had to compete with all the other state agencies seeking money from the general fund. That’s translated into cuts over the past three-plus decades.

State police officials say that in 2017, about 11,880 calls asking for state police help were not responded to for lack of troopers.

“We do not have 24/7 coverage anywhere in the state,” said Capt. Tim Fox, public information officer for the Oregon State Police. “Calls that come in when we are not staffed are either handled by the next day shift or referred to another law enforcement agency. In case of an emergency, we can get a trooper at home to suit up and go out on overtime.”

The Oregon State Police was created in 1931 to assist police and sheriffs departments, especially in rural areas of the state. One of its primary roles is transportation safety, which is handled by the patrol division. Other divisions include criminal investigations, crime databases, fish and wildlife, forensic services, gaming, medical examiners and state fire marshals.

Brown’s budget would restore $8 million to the state police budget, allowing the department to fill vacant trooper positions. It would end the practice of “double-filling,” in which personnel are pulled off of patrol duty to handle other mandated state police functions such as monitoring sex offenders.

The governor’s budget would also add $3 million for 10 additional trooper positions in the next biennium.

The state police say adding troopers is important because the fatality rates on Oregon roadways has surpassed the national average. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death of children under 15. Officials estimate that doubling the number of troopers between 2001 and 2016 would have saved 921 lives and $1.4 billion from accidents and other incidents that could have been prevented.

Double the number of troopers in the future would mean roughly doubling the number of DUI arrests and apprehensions for dangerous driving.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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