The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday October 28th

State audit finds troopers in violation of highway patrol residency policy

Several troopers within the State Highway Patrol may not live close to the county in which they work, according to a recent report by the Office of the State Auditor. 

The audit, which was released Monday, found eight troopers lived as far as 187 miles from their county of duty, a direct violation of the Highway Patrol Residency Policy. 

The policy mandates that a trooper's residence must be established to ensure troopers can respond to calls for service in a timely manner on a 24-hour basis. Troopers are allowed to live outside the county of their assigned duty station, but they must reside at an approved location within 20 miles of that county line.

"By not following the residency policy, troopers unnecessarily increased commuting miles on their State Highway Patrol vehicles," the audit said. "The increased commuting mileage ultimately resulted in higher fuel and maintenance costs and may have reduced the useful lives of their respective vehicles."

The report also found troopers living outside of areas permitted by the residency policy may have jeopardized response times to calls within their county of duty. 

During the investigation, most of the troopers found in violation indicated they maintained a secondary residence closer to their county of duty, but a review of fuel and maintenance records found most troopers were indeed commuting from their primary residence. The eight troopers in question also failed to submit an HP-740 form, which permits troopers to live outside their county of assigned duty.

The audit said that although troopers in a managerial role may not be required to respond to calls on a routine basis, those troopers must still follow the residency policies because they may still be required to respond in emergency situations.

Michael Baker, spokesperson for the State Highway Patrol, said the department acknowledged the violations of the residency policy prior to the release of the audit. He said the new management that took over in March has been working to fix the issue.

The state audit said administrative neglect of the violations contributed to a culture of noncompliance and a lack of accountability among troopers within the Highway Patrol. 

“I don’t know that anyone here has ever paid attention (to that rule),” one captain stated in the audit report. 

The report culminates in a series of recommendations for the Highway Patrol, including recommendation for review of the addresses of all state troopers.

In response to the audit, N.C. Secretary of Public Safety Erik Hooks issued a statement acknowledging the findings, and stating the Department of Public Safety would work to comply with the report’s recommendations. 

"The Highway Patrol command staff has communicated a clear message that the residency policy is to be strictly and evenly enforced and that Troopers who knowingly violate the policy or supervisors who fail to adequately enforce the policy will be dealt with appropriately," he said.

Hooks said budget limitations may inhibit the department's ability to install GPS tracking devices in trooper vehicles as the report recommended. 

Hooks was unavailable for additional comments on the report.

The Wake and Cumberland County Troops, the two troops found in violation of the policy, also declined to comment. 

@paynelubbs

state@dailytarheel.com

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