Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Joe Albo painted a worrisome picture during a presentation last week in Payson: a scene of miles and miles of state highways with nary a police officer in sight.
In fact, according to Albo's figures, there are only 24 DPS officers patrolling 5,300 miles of state roadways at any one time. That's one officer for every 220 miles of highway.
Those figures are troubling on two accounts: the officers', and the rest of us motorists.
Patrolmen figure to be particularly concerned in light of recent shootings of police officers in the Valley. On March 19, a Tempe driver jumped out of his car and began firing away at three bicycle officers, wounding one. On March 24, a man wrestled away the gun of a Phoenix police officer and wounded her in the arm. Two days later, a Phoenix officer was killed when a man in a car he was following started firing at him.
There is only one DPS officer in each car that patrols those long stretches of highway. The next officer could be more than 100 miles away. Albo said his budget does not allow for two officers in a vehicle.
All of us other drivers should be worried both for these vulnerable officers and for our own safety. Though DPS also has some special motorist-assist vehicles rolling around the state, there are just too few patrolmen to provide a comfortable level of service.
Albo said he is requesting funding for 80 more officers from the State Legislature, which is expected to begin budget deliberations within the next few days. In light of the state's healthy economic climate and ample tax revenues, the Legislature should devote some funds to making the great expanse of Arizona highways more secure.
If you agree, give our legislators a call at 1-800-352-8404 and tell them so.
We ask our law enforcement officers to confront suspicious characters and law-breakers. The least we can do is make them feel a little more secure in doing so.