Originally created 02/08/02

Two troopers help make up vacancies

Tired of handling the usual domestic spats as a police officer and sheriff's deputy, Brent Marxsen decided to sign up for the Georgia State Patrol.

It was like joining the varsity team, he said.

"It was my goal," Trooper Marxsen said. "It's better pay, better retirement. To me, it's less of a headache. You've got one main issue, and that's traffic."

Trooper Marxsen and Trooper Bert Clifton, who are assigned to the Thomson Post, join a class of 66 new state troopers who are helping the state agency climb closer to its full authorized strength of 953. With the graduation of the 78th Trooper School in Forsyth last month, the state has 870 troopers with plans for another class of 75 to start training in March.

The Georgia State Patrol has struggled with a shortage for several years with retirements and troopers who leave for better-paying jobs, patrol spokesman Gordy Wright said. For the motoring public, that can mean fewer officers on the road to discourage speeding, or a delay in response times for accidents.

"Anytime you can fill the gaps, that will increase visibility," Mr. Wright said. "The more troopers we can put out there, the safer we can make the roads."

Troopers Marxsen and Clifton brought the number of troopers assigned to the Thomson Post to 12. But 15 are needed at the post, which covers the five-county area of Richmond, Columbia, McDuffie, Warren and Glascock counties.

That shortage is reflected throughout the state, with some posts seeing shortages of four and five troopers at a time, Mr. Wright said.

"We're constantly trying to recruit, really throughout the country, for quality candidates," Mr. Wright said.

Recruiting videos and brochures are distributed to college campuses and military institutions. At the same time, patrol officials visit job fairs and festivals to spread the word about vacancies and job possibilities.

Filling the positions becomes even more important as the population in Georgia grows, increasing the workload and number of accidents, Mr. Wright said.

Four years ago, the Georgia Legislature approved an increase in trooper positions to more than 900. At some points, the number of active staff reached a low of 800, or 16 percent fewer than needed.

Even with the approval for more positions, getting the troopers on the road takes time because of recruiting, background checks and seven months of training, Mr. Wright said.

And training is a continuing process.

On Wednesday, Trooper Clifton completed two hours of training using a quarter-million-dollar simulator in which he dodged pedestrians and moving cars during chases.

It was a tough experience for the 26-year-old trooper.

"You are doing so many things at one time. You have to talk on the radio; you have to make sure your lights are on, use your turn signals," he said. "You have to watch for other people, and then you have to keep who you are chasing in sight.

"It's a combination of everything put together that makes it difficult."

But after three weeks on the job, Trooper Clifton is excited about joining the Georgia State Patrol.

"It's what I always wanted to do since I was a little bitty boy."

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.


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