COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Highway Patrol is kicking off a major recruitment campaign. From now until August 1, troopers will be taking a tour of the state to recruit – and it's all in an effort to keep you safe.
Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers is still keeping a close eye on a state agency it believes has issues.
"My old job, being on the road, I worked right here in Richland," said Corporal Michael Zang. "I just enjoy interacting with the public and answering questions for people and helping out."
Right now, Zang and others have their work cut out for them. It's their job to bring new recruits to the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
The state's largest law enforcement agency is looking to bring in one of its largest recruiting classes in recent history.
"Currently, we're sitting at approximately 800 troopers, and we'd like to get approximately 55 into our next class, which starts in February," Cpl. Zang said.
The push to find recruits will begin with an education session on Shop Road in Columbia on Tuesday, and more will be held throughout the state in the coming days.
"We always got to make sure we're always bringing that next generation on," Zang said. "Every year, there's a new generation turning 21 that's eligible and willing and wanting to get into law enforcement, and that's why we try to hold these meetings to try to give them a chance to come and talk with us."
"We want them to do them. We want them to be effective," added Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland).
Rep. Rutherford is part of a House oversight committee studying issues at Highway Patrol.
"It has got to get better because people are dying," he said.
After months of research, a report from April says Highway Patrol has a deficiency in hiring, recruitment, and retention.
According to that report, from 2013 to 2016, while fatalities increased, the number of patrol hours decreased by roughly 87,000 hours. The agency has faced turnover in the hundreds over the past five years.
And, during the last four years, Highway Patrol has seen about 200 vacancies.
"People may not notice, but when you drive from Columbia to Charleston, when you drive from Columbia to Hilton Head, or when you drive from Greenville to Charleston, and you simply don't see troopers. You see troopers may be traveling, but you don't see the number of troopers that used to be out there on our roads," Rutherford said.
Rutherford hopes effective recruitment and changes in leadership will help.
By the way, Zang said the starting pay for an entry-level trooper is very competitive with other departments.
If you'd like to attend one of the recruitment sessions, there are plenty of opportunities. They'll also be making stops in places like Greenville, Goose Creek, Orangeburg, and more.