...Faces Uncertain Future



Story by news4jax.com

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --

The men and women who work with the Florida Highway Patrol to keep state roadways safe could soon face some major changes at the hands of a government agency that's looking at ways to save money.

Many drivers think the FHP troopers just write speeding tickets along the interstates, which is actually a good portion of their job and a revenue source for the state, but now some lawmakers are looking at several different options for the future of the FHP.

The first recommendation involves moving the FHP to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which includes the state detectives who handle major crimes in Florida.

The second recommendation is to move the FHP to the Department of Transportation, which builds and maintains roads.

The third choice is to make the FHP their own agency that would no longer be affiliated with the division.

The fourth option is to do away with the FHP completely.

The recommendation to possibly do away with the FHP has Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford up in arms.

Rutherford said with the budget cuts he has to make he couldn't understand why the state would consider having local police pick up the slack if the FHP went away.

"Here he is with one of the options is to do away with the Florida Highway Patrol and put that responsibility on me, and then when I increase revenue to cover that additional responsibility he wants to paint me the bad guy. I am furious about that," Rutherford said.

The four recommendations came from a government agency in Tallahassee that looks at state programs in search of money-saving changes.

The FHP has a $217 million budget.

Reporter Jim Piggott went to the FHP headquarters on Normandy Boulevard to talk to them about the proposals before the Legislature. They agreed to talk, but after contacting their superiors they said they could not comment.

However, Sen. Stephen Wise could comment, and told Channel 4 he disagrees with any plans get rid of FHP.

"I think that has probably gone too far. I think FHP is a very good organization and has been here a long time. They patrol the interstates, and that real function that is necessary especially in the rural areas," Wise said.

Thursday afternoon, Channel 4 received an email from FHP director Col. John Cernis. Cernis wrote: "We believe that it is essential to the safety and well-being of the people of Florida that the patrol continues to provide law enforcement services on our highways. Ultimately, our state leadership, after a comprehensive and thorough review, will determine what is in the best interest of our state. We have the utmost confidence in their work and their support of the Florida Highway Patrol."