Highway Patrol Reform Effort Hits The Road
The commander of the North Carolina Highway Patrol is halfway through a two-week tour of the state. He's holding mandatory meetings in every patrol district and requiring all troopers to sign a code of conduct. The patrol is trying to clean up its ranks and its reputation in the wake of numerous scandals of trooper misconduct - many involving sex and alcohol. Being a North Carolina Highway Patrolman runs in the Horton family. As a kid, Trooper John Horton says one conversation with his father put him on a path. "I ask him, 'What's the biggest difference between the regular guy here on the road and the highway patrol?'" recalls Horton. "(He told me) 'A trooper is a cut above. They're gonna tell the truth no matter what, even if it hurts them in the long run.'" Horton says he sees the scandals facing the NC Highway Patrol as a "very small percentage" of the whole organization. "And I hope people can always look at that," adds Horton. He says he's still proud to put on his highway patrol hat, even though yet another of his fellow troopers recently resigned for misconduct - this time a high ranking spokesman for the patrol got caught sending sexual text messages to his secretary. And before that, troopers were caught driving drunk, having sex on the job, and in one case, shooting a neighbor's kitten. In the last two years at least nine troopers have resigned or been dismissed for misconduct. "I don't believe we have a systemic problem, whatsoever, on the highway patrol," says Captain Patricia Poole, commander of Patrol Troop E based in Salisbury. "Agencies across the country and private sector, they fire people every day," says Poole. "Some of them in the private sector would not be dismissed for conduct that's occurring with our members. But because we have such a public trust, we lost our jobs. I mean we take it personal." Some in the highway patrol have complained the misconduct of a few bad apples has been blown out of proportion. Poole doesn't go that far, but she argues the highway patrol already has a "zero tolerance" policy for bad behavior. "We have people that make mistakes and sometimes whether it's willful or a mistake of the heart or the head, they lose their jobs for it," says Poole. "And there's no coming back." She says the fact that the problems are dealt as they are discovered is proof there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the North Carolina Highway Patrol. Yesterday's meeting in Salisbury was closed to the media and troopers were reluctant to talk afterward. They had just learned of several new rules: Troopers will now be required to live in the county where they work. The idea is that ties to the community will encourage troopers to be on their best behavior all the time. More patrol cars will be outfitted with cameras to continue that sense of accountability. And state Patrol Commander Randy Glover says he's going to start looking at trooper's personal cell phone bills. "I'm not interested in who they're talking to and how much it's costing them to talk," says Glover. "I just want to make sure I'm getting 100% out of you while you're on the job." Glover says these code-of-conduct meetings are meant to boost morale, rather than chastise patrol members. It's awkward and frustrating for many troopers to be called in for a two-hour meeting about the embarrassing actions of their fellow patrolmen. But after yesterday's gathering, Master Trooper Bill Martin felt it was necessary to refocus the basics that are taught in training. "Some of us have been on the patrol for over 20 years now and it just brings it back into focus what we need to be doing," says Martin. According to the new code of conduct troopers must now sign, that includes not doing anything to embarrass or discredit the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.