COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The South Carolina Department of Public Safety is looking for a few good men and women to take up the challenge of being a state trooper - which takes training.
Twelve weeks at the state Criminal Justice Academy with additional specialized work designed to teach trooper candidates skills including estimating speed, measuring and diagramming, and using radar and laser guns.
Former troopers Jerry Rothell and Billy Warren spent decades on the state's roadways. Both also served as training officers.
They say the way the Patrol is preparing recruits now is not as good as it used to be.
"They have streamlined it to the point that these guys are not being given the basic training that they need to be able to do their job," Rothell, a 26-year patrol veteran said.
Warren conducted advanced training for academy graduates.
"Protect themselves? Possibly," he said.
But would they be able to do their job completely?
"I don't believe so, no."
Rothell and Warren are part of a group called Protect Our SC Troopers, based in Spartanburg County. The group and organizer Jim Hardin have been critical of a revamped DPS trooper training strategy that replaced a schedule requiring up to nine weeks of enhanced training for new officers after they completed 12 weeks of basic classes at the academy.
The new program provides four weeks of advanced classes followed by eight weeks of fieldwork with a supervisor.
Hardin calls the changes part of an "ill-advised..reckless attempt to wholesale increase the number of troopers on the road."
On Thursday, the Patrol's Captain Tara Laffin defended the changes.
"The fact that we do an additional four weeks training that is job-specific to what our function is, is not putting the officers at risk or the public at risk," Laffin said. "We're actually getting an additional four weeks training that other agencies do not."
In a statement, Hardin cites a recent report noting most of the state's counties are only at 25 to 40% of their authorized number of troopers on the road.
But Laffin says the Patrol is making progress attracting applicants in part due to the revised training schedule, which has reduced the length of time between hiring and actual field work.
She says the number of applicants has jumped 30% in the past year.