Georgia State Patrol officials say Northeast Georgians shouldn't expect significant changes to the patrol following a report criticizing the agency's efficiency and ability to operate effectively.
The 62-page report recently released by the Department of Audits and Accounts said trooper shifts don't correlate with times that most accidents occur. The placement of posts across the state was also called into question in the report.
"By improving the alignment of its resources with its core mission and by measuring its performance, GSP can better demonstrate its impact on investigating accidents, enforcing traffic laws and safeguarding the public," the report states.
"The main point we're trying to make is the Georgia State Patrol really needs to put its troopers and resources where they can have maximum impact on accidents and traffic violations," said Leslie Maguire, head of the Department of Audits and Accounts' performance audit division.
But state patrol officials don't agree with much of the report's findings.
"I think it's a result of not understanding our structure, how we receive our posts and when we receive our posts," said Col. Mark McDonough, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.
"We're not a state police organization. We are a support organization to local law enforcement that ask us to help them."
Sgt. Dean Allen, Gainesville post commander, said the audit was conducted at posts that were facing hardships at the time and doesn't reflect the entire state agency.
"They did it during furloughs, so I think those audits were nowhere near a representation of what the patrol actually does or is," Allen said.
A 2005 management study by the Department of Public Safety determined the agency could operate with fewer posts. Cutting the patrol's 48 posts in half would save an estimated $1.25 million each year and allow for 107 additional troopers, the study said.
Maguire, though, said the department isn't suggesting cutting posts, but rather suggesting more troopers be stationed on the road.
The Gainesville Post is staffed with 17 full-time troopers and two part-time. It patrols Hall, Banks and White counties, working 42 percent of crashes in that jurisdiction, according to the report.
"Gainesville just spent close to $3 million on a facility for us and in return for that we have the commitment to be in Hall County and we work the majority of the accidents in Hall County," McDonough said.
When troopers write a ticket in Hall County that money goes back to the county not the patrol.
The recent audit found that most troopers across the state work 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, while most accidents occur 2-6 p.m.
Also, according to the report, about 75 percent of fatal DUI accidents occur at night and more than half on weekends, yet few troopers are on the roads between midnight and 5 a.m.
"Our plan is to put more troopers on the roadway to support a growing state," McDonough said. "... looking at the data as far as putting folks out when accidents are occurring, it makes sense to do your best to align people during those periods of time."
The strategy the patrol currently uses for staffing is through recommendations by local police departments. Those times aren't necessarily during peak accident hours; it's based on when the local agency says it needs assistance with investigations, McDonough said.
Officials say placing troopers on later shifts could have a negative effect on other shifts.
"With current staffing levels, increasing the number of troopers on the midnight shift would seriously deplete manpower available on other shifts, without a corresponding impact on traffic safety," the Department of Public Safety said in response to the audit.
Just like every other aspect of government, the state patrol has been limited by decreased state funding. Staffing a post 24 hours a day has proven difficult.
And time troopers spend in court cuts into their daily patrols, as well, Allen said.
"We don't get paid overtime, we get paid strictly straight time and if we go to court and we're not working those are work hours that I have to give back to troopers," Allen said.
Despite the patrols disagreement with the report, audit officials remain confident in their findings.
"This is not a law enforcement issue it's a management issue. It's been our experience that when agencies have no other information to refute the data in our reports they tend to question our credibility and expertise," Maguire said.