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Department of Public Safety exempt from governor's hiring cap

Gov. Katie Hobbs exempted the Department of Public Safety from a statewide employment cap at government agencies meant to address a projected state budget deficit.

In a letter sent earlier this month, Hobbs’ office said it is implementing a cap on the number of employees at state agencies, boards and commissions effective April 27.

“This headcount cap will allow agencies the flexibility to determine which positions need to be filled and which positions can be held vacant,” according to the letter from Ben Henderson, the governor’s director of operations. 

Hobbs said it is not a hiring freeze and that agencies can still fill open positions that are already funded in the budget.

“We’re in a budget situation with a deficit, and we need to fix that,” Hobbs said. “So we want to have all the information we can to where we can be more efficient.

The cap comes as the DPS faces a shortage of state troopers.

“We just got the numbers, we’re actually under 1,000 troopers for the state, which is, for us, the most vacancies that our agency has ever experienced in its existence,” Jeff Hawkins, president of the Arizona State Troopers Association said. 

The most recent state budget included funds for nearly 1,300 troopers. 

Last week, Hobbs said her office was in discussions with DPS about a potential cap.

“We have been discussing this with DPS ... hiring freezes, layoffs, pay cuts, those are not on the table right now,” Hobbs said. 

Christian Slater, a spokesman for the governor, confirmed Monday that DPS received approval for an additional 319 positions. He said that approval will apply to all hiring within the department “with discretion to [Director Jeffrey Glover] whether it’s civilian or trooper.”

A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety declined to comment, but the Arizona State Troopers Association praised the decision.

“We thank Gov. Hobbs and her staff for working with DPS to grant this exemption. This commitment to public safety is very much needed during these tough times,” the association said on social media.

That approval alone won’t solve the ongoing trooper shortage, though.

Hawkins, the association president, said pay and benefits are the primary drivers of the shortage, noting that DPS ranks behind other law enforcement agencies in the state for pay, including police departments in Phoenix, Paradise Valley, Tempe, Scottsdale, Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert, Surprise, Apache Junction and Glendale. 

He said the shortage has led to longer response times, a lack of backup for troopers and an inability to provide 24/7 coverage outside of Maricopa and Pima counties.

“The rest of the state goes dark after midnight,” Hawkins said.

Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.