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State Patrol stretches to cover Minnesota
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Trooper Mark Correll talks with a motorist after a minor vehicle accident near St. Cloud. (MPR Photo/Tim Post)
Minnesota's State Patrol troopers say it's getting harder to keep motorists safe. In the past 20 years, the number of licensed drivers in Minnesota has increased 27 percent. The number of miles traveled by motorists has doubled. But the number of troopers on Minnesota's highways has stayed the same. State Patrol officials realize during these lean budget times they're not likely to get more money to hire troopers. But they say if something doesn't change soon, the roads will become more dangerous, and more Minnesotans will die.

St. Cloud, Minn. — 19-year State Patrol veteran Mark Correll's car sits in a median along Highway 10 north of St. Cloud. As commuter traffic picks up, Correll uses his radar to watch for speeders. It's something he's able to do less and less on his shift, to sit and be seen.

"People see you and they say 'Oh, (the) State Patrol is out again'. And whether I am or not, it just getting the word out. It's perceived that we're out here."

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Image Smashed

Pulling over speeders is a big part of the State Patrol's mission. But troopers say they can't spend much time these days enforcing traffic laws because they're responding to more and more accidents. Trooper Correll says combine that with short staffing and a huge coverage area, and some days are unbearable.

"You may go to Albany and all the way out to Foley and from Foley back out on the interstate back to St. Cloud. (Then) three miles up to St. Augusta, and from St. Augusta back to St. Cloud and then to St. Joe and then down to Luxemborg. You work so fast, so furious your head swims," Correll says.

On those busy days, the dispatchers at the State Patrol office in St. Cloud put out one service call after another to troopers.

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Image Captain Al Kutz

Al Kutz, Captain of the State Patrol District in St. Cloud, says the shortage of troopers means their visibility is down. Being seen is just as important as writing tickets to slow down drivers. And that's tough when troopers are stuck in the office doing paper work related to accidents. "So if one guy is in the office doing some paperwork and a couple are on the road, there's a lot of highways that aren't getting touched at all. So the perception for a lot of the public is 'I don't see them, they're not there'," Kutz says. Back on the road, it's near the end of Trooper Correl's 10 hour shift. It was a good day for chasing speeders. There were no accidents to respond to, and he has a clipboard full of tickets and warnings to show for it.

Correll says there's enough work in Minnesota to keep a thousand troopers busy, that's twice the number on the road now.

Correl says the motoring public will see the effects of the trooper shortage soon. Fewer troopers on the road could mean more accidents and more deaths. In fact records show that 657 people died on Minnesota highways, that's the highest figure in two decades.

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