Commissioner of Public Safety Doug Bodrero has been singing the same song for years: The Utah Highway Patrol needs more troopers. And with lawmakers set to begin their 45-day session Monday, Bodrero will be dusting off the same record one more time.
"Every year, adding more troopers to our highways is our top priority, and this year is no different," Bodrero said. "The governor's office is recommending five more troopers. We wish there were more, but we realize there are budget restraints."The request for more troopers is but one part of the Department of Public Safety's ambitious legislative package that also includes $55,000 to continue operation of a state crime lab in Cedar City, $22,000 to expand operations at the state crime lab at Weber State University and $50,000 to expand the state's DNA testing facilities.
The package will also include $75,000 to enhance the state's criminal intelligence gathering network and $50,000 to continue a federally funded team of investigators who target clandestine drug labs.
The department will also be at the forefront of the governor's anti-violence campaign that includes increased financing for programs like DARE and Officer Friendly. The increased funds will allow officials to incorporate anti-violence programs into the anti-drug messages currently being taught, and to expand the programs into junior high schools.
"And we want to change the talk from `gangs' to `violence.' Gangs are not the problem. Violence is the problem, and that is the focus of what we are trying to do," Bodrero said.
Bodrero hopes the new focus of the anti-violence programs are targeted on the problem of gangs and violence, and are "not just sending messages. There's nothing wrong with sending messages, but we also have to address the problems."
The Department of Public Safety will also be seeking legislative assistance in establishing a volunteer program wherein retired firefighters will donate their expertise as school inspectors. Currently, the department does not have the staff to regularly inspect schools for fire safety.
Bodrero also wants to see the Legislature adopt a get-tough law on carjacking - an increasingly serious problem. "We need to target that crime directly. As alarm systems become more sophisticated, stealing cars out of parking lots is more difficult. They (car thieves) are finding it easier to jump into a car stopped at a red light and put a gun to somebody's head," he said.
The department has not yet given its stamp of approval to a proposal that would expand Utah's drunken driving laws to allow citations to be issued to drivers with a blood-alcohol content of .04 percent. Currently, Utah law states that drivers are intoxicated at .08 percent, but some lawmakers say tougher laws are needed to discourage any drinking and driving at any level.
"There is no one more committed than I am to getting drunken drivers off the roads," Bodrero said, "but I struggling with the .04 bill. I am not yet satisfied it will help or hurt our efforts. The way it was originally proposed it would have hindered drunken driving arrests."
By having a three-tiered drunken driving law - as some lawmakers have proposed - Bodrero believes it might become easier for serious DUI offenders to plea bargain to lesser offenses.