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Parts of the state with sparse police presence could see more state troopers on the highway under a bill advancing through the Oregon Legislature.

If passed, Senate Bill 1545 would put hundreds more state troopers on the state’s highways over the next decade. During a committee hearing on the bill last week, State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton told lawmakers that Oregon’s current trooper-staffing level is at the “bottom of the barrel” compared to other states.

He said that Oregon has 458 troopers assigned to its patrol division, about the same number it had in the late 1960s and early 1970s, to cover a state that’s grown to a population of over 4 million. He presented the committee with a map showing vast expanses of Oregon, primarily outside the Interstate 5 corridor, where state troopers aren’t available 24 hours. He said that after dark in some areas “you’re really on your own.”

“This illustration should be a little bit scary to all of us,” he said.

He said that the lack of state troopers has left local law enforcement agencies spread thin as they respond to situations on highways that should be addressed by the Oregon State Police.

If passed, the bill would start ramping up trooper patrol staffing levels beginning next year. For the 2021-23 budget cycle, the number of state troopers on the patrol division would be boosted to 522. That number would rise to 796 by the 2029-31 budget cycle. The bill would require the state police to maintain a staffing level of 15 patrol troopers for every 100,000 residents by 2030. Hampton said the bill would gradually put Oregon’s trooper staffing levels in the middle compared to other states. As of 2016, Oregon has 8 troopers per 100,000.

Hampton pointed out during the last session lawmakers provided funding allowing the Oregon State Police to hire more dispatchers, records technicians, medical examiners and other staff that troopers need to do their jobs. He said that the earlier funding made it possible for the state police to hire more troopers and was currently on a “hiring spree.”

The bill was introduced at the request of the Oregon State Police Officers’ Association. Tanya Henderson, the group’s president, told the committee that the low staffing levels create unsafe situations for officers who have to wait a long time for backup.

The bill is broadly supported by groups representing law enforcement and others. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously for the bill last week.

According to a legislative document, the Oregon State Police would be able to hire about 22 employees at a cost of $9 million and would hire a similar number through 2031. Fully implementing the bill will cost $146 million.

Reporter: 503-575-1251, jake@salemreporter.com

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