ATLANTA - Although the Georgia State Patrol is tasked with keeping highways safe, its presence on roads drops significantly around the state in the late night and early morning hours.
And about 2 a.m., all of Georgia's troopers call it a night, leaving only radio operators in 21 out of 49 posts statewide. If there are traffic accidents on any of the state's 20,000 miles of highways or interstates, the radio operators notify troopers on call, who must get out of bed to respond.
The State Patrol's Thomson post - the closest office to Augusta - is among the posts that close during the night, leaving enforcement activities mostly to local sheriff's deputies.
"They usually shut down at 11 p.m. and reopen about 7 a.m.," said State Patrol spokesman Gordie Wright.
Although the post is closed during the night hours, there is still a State Patrol officer on call throughout the night, he said.
"It would be a call car - someone available to respond to a crash or for medical relay, but it's not someone who would be out there for traffic enforcement."
"It's a manpower issue," State Patrol Col. Bill Hitchens said. "We would like for things to be otherwise, but we have to deal what we have."
Col. Hitchens said all phone calls for help are answered. And in the case of closed posts, calls are forwarded to a radio operator in a nearby county.
But A.J. Pavlisak, vice president of the Georgia Trooper Lodge 100 of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the shortage of troopers on the road means dangerous drivers are not getting caught.
"If you don't have the work force out there to stop it, it just gets worse and worse and worse," Mr. Pavlisak said.
Sheriffs, especially those in rural areas, are also concerned.
Screven County Sheriff Mike Kile said traffic is sparse in his county, which borders South Carolina, between midnight and dawn. Even so, he keeps one of his six deputies on patrol.
"Personally I think all State Patrol posts should be staffed 24 hours," Sheriff Kile said. "But they don't have the personnel to do it, and they don't have the money to do it."
The State Patrol has nearly 750 troopers. Col. Hitchens said the current "trooper school" could have accommodated 70 students but only 54 enrolled. Now, only 39 cadets remain and are scheduled to graduate in August.
Meanwhile, the agency averages 10 to 20 resignations a month, according to Col. Hitchens. Relatively low pay, starting at $31,500 with no incremental increases, is one reason for the high turnover, he said.
Mr. Pavlisak said the manpower shortage has changed the nature of the State Patrol. "The patrol has become a reactionary force as opposed to a proactive force," he said.
Staff Writer Rob Pavey contributed to this report.