State troopers leaving force over low wages, prompting new study at the Statehouse

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INDIANAPOLIS (July 21, 2015) – At any given moment, Indiana State Police troopers are on the clock.

“I just felt that I was making a difference,” Michael Augst said. “Taking drug dealers and criminals off the street.”

Augst was one of the troopers charged with enforcing state laws, investigating crimes and protecting Hoosiers. That is until he left the force two weeks ago.

“I don’t do this job…nobody does this job to get rich,” he said. “When you’re getting 20 grand less, 15 grand less than people you’re working with hand-in-hand…”

Augst, an Army veteran, is going back to school and looking for work with other higher-paying departments.

“To this day I would do anything for those guys,” he said. “I’m sure they would still do anything for me.”

For the first time this summer, lawmakers will seriously study how the state pays its law enforcement.

There are concerns about what happens when years of experience walk out the door for higher paying jobs across town.

“It puts Indiana State Police at a distinct disadvantage,” Capt. Dave Bursten said, with the Indiana State Police.

This month, troopers saw their first raise in nearly eight years, a two percent raise state lawmakers approved as part of the new state budget.

“I think it was important that we show the immediate attention that we did,” State Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) said, chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

A first-year trooper starts at just more than $38,000 a year. It will take 20 years of service for the trooper to reach the pay cap of $60,000.

Bursten said there are still troopers on the force receiving less take-home pay than they did seven years ago.

“We recently had an officer that resigned from State Police,” Bursten said. “He is going to work for another greater Indianapolis-area police department, and he’s going to see a $20,000 pay increase immediately.”

FOX 59 talked with a half-dozen troopers who’ve recently quit for higher paying jobs. They all said more troopers are considering the same.

“You’re not going to get our best foot forward, and not only is that not good for the public, it’s also bad for us,” Augst said.

Locally, the Indiana State Police Alliance found an IMPD officer will make $297,480 more after 21 years of service. Officers in Carmel will make $243,638 more and $157,596 more in Noblesville.

Across the Midwest, state troopers in Illinois make $670,276 more during the same time-frame, according to the analysis by the Indiana State Police Alliance. Troopers in both Michigan and Ohio would make more than $250,000 more.

“We really need to have a better analysis about what the whole package is before we do more,” Kenley said, who is warning to proceed cautiously, concerned salaries are just one component.

“I don’t think we have a wholesale problem here,” he said. “I think there may be some specific instances where a particularly talented person, somebody else is willing to pay them more. I think a market place is a good place to decide these things. And I also think it stimulates guys and ladies who are serving there to do better. So that doesn’t bother me.”

Kenley said whatever the outcome of the summer study committee, he doesn’t anticipate any monetary changes  to be debated until the next state budget.