After budget cuts, Highway Patrol looks to expand its ranks - - Columbia, South Carolina |

After budget cuts, Highway Patrol looks to expand its ranks

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After years of budget cuts and declining numbers of troopers on the force, the South Carolina Highway Patrol is ramping up efforts to get new recruits.

By next year, Trooper Trainee Tonya Kelley will be back on the streets she last knew as a child.

"It's where my father patrolled; it's where I grew up and I've been gone for 15 years, so its time to come back home and give back to the community," said Kelley.

This time, Kelley be given a responsibility most people never fully understand.

"People think we just change tires, or we just write speeding tickets, but its more than that," said Kelley. "It's arriving on a wreck scene and being the first person that helps the injured child or injured person."

Corp. Michael Zang with the Patrol's recruiting unit helps to get the trainees ready for the road.

"It's one where you got to have a desire to help the public, we don't do it for the pay," said Zang.

The starting salary for a Highway Patrol trooper is now roughly $31,000.

Since 2008, the number of troopers has dropped to roughly 750 due to budget cuts. Now recruiters hope to fill their ranks with up to 300 more recruits.

"Application process takes between four and six months. For this next class, it's an aggressive situation where we're actually speeding up that process for some appllicants," said Zang.

Kelley is still just one of a handful of women in trooper training, but that number is growing.

"Women can feel empowered and do something and not have to take the back seat role that maybe in the past has been something that's expected of them," said Kelley. "I think once my dad gives me my certificate when I'm on stage and I give him that hug and I shake the governor's hand it will be one of the proudest moments of my life."

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