By Lauren Gregory, Staff WriterFeb. 19--State lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they would support a requirement that Tennessee state troopers patrol in pairs after dark -- if only the money existed to pay for it.
Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.
Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, has introduced legislation that would require double occupancy in every Tennessee Highway Patrol vehicle on the road between sundown and sunrise. The measure was inspired by the Jan. 6 shooting death of 24-year-old Trooper Calvin Jenks, he said.
A complementary bill has been filed by in the state House by Rep. David Shepard, D-Dickson.
Trooper Jenks was killed during a 9:30 p.m. traffic stop in Tipton County, which Sen. Jackson said is just outside his district.
"That was one of those things where having a backup available, probably he would be alive today," the senator said. "I don't think we should just ignore this and say that trooper was just unlucky."
Sen. Jackson said he ranks the bill high on his priority list but concedes that the chance of it passing as drafted seems slim.
"Obviously, to accomplish literally what the bill requests would require adding a significant number of troopers," he said. "But I think it's certainly a starting point for this discussion."
The Highway Patrol's manpower already is stretched, according to Department of Safety spokesman Mike Browning, who said roughly 150 of the department's 600-plus troopers are deployed each evening to cover all 95 of the state's counties.
"There are times when you don't even have an officer in (any given) county," Mr. Browning said. "If (the regulations outlined in the bill were carried out) with the current manpower, you would reduce the number of cars in each district."
However, he said, the Department of Safety is conducting a fiscal analysis of the proposed legislation, as "the safety of our troopers is obviously a top priority."
Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, said he is looking forward to the results of that analysis.
"I'd certainly like to see the cost of it because I'd certainly be for it," he said.
But the "astronomical" amount of money likely involved may be a stumbling block for the bill's ultimate success, Rep. Floyd said.
"It would be great if we could do this not only with our state troopers but with all police officers who work overnight," Rep. Floyd said. "Goodness knows we need it. Whether we'd be willing to pay for it... the people I've talked to don't give it a lot of chance."
Rep. Jo Anne Favors, D-Chattanooga, said she "will probably support it with certain amendments. We have rural communities, and it's just very dangerous."
Although carrying out the requirement statewide might be impossible, Rep. Favors said, perhaps it could apply to some of the more at-risk counties or patrol districts.
"I think it should be done in certain areas," she said. "You can't place a value on a life."
Sen. Jackson said he is hoping for "ongoing debate" along those lines.
"Let's see what we can afford, and let's see what the department (of safety) says," he said.
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Copyright 2007 Chattanooga Times and Free Press
Tenn. weighs putting 2 troopers on nighttime patrol