RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia State Police added 40 new troopers to their ranks Friday. Yet, it’s a drop in the bucket for a department facing critical staffing shortages. The 134th Basic Session Trooper Graduation was half about what it’s been in the past.

Even more of an issue, there are currently 334 trooper vacancies. Wayne Huggins, Executive Director of State Police Association, tells 8News that vacancy rate could grow. 

“Additionally we have another 273 troopers who are fully eligible for retirement, and our applications are down by 40%.”

We’re told low salary and the current climate around policing is making it hard to recruit and retain officers. The starting salary for a state trooper is $47,800, among the lowest for a police officer in Central Virginia. The starting salary for a police office in Henrico, Hanover or Ashland is between $50,000 and $52,000.

Staffing is so short within the State Police, troopers are being pulled from around the state to handle critical areas.

“Here it is summer-time, busiest time of the year for Virginia Beach,” Huggins said. “We’re 50% vacancies down there.”

Gov. Ralph Northam has pledged to help. At the graduation ceremony, Northam told the new troopers he’s proposing $20 million from the American Rescue Plan and a study to look at a long-term fix.

“These are critical investments to make sure we have more resources to recruit and retain state troopers while also boosting our efforts to reduce gun violence,” Northam said.

Huggins says the American Rescue Plan money should help make the department marginally more competitive. It seems to have support from both the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates.

Huggins says the hope is lawmakers will come back next session and offer more. Regardless, the staffing shortages won’t be fixed overnight.

On average, it can take 18 to 24 months to fill a vacancy. The application process alone can take six months, as it requires psychological, physical and polygraph testing.