SARASOTA (FOX 13) - Protecting drivers along Florida's interstates falls into the hands of the Florida Highway Patrol.
But FHP says there are fewer state troopers than ever before. The agency has worked to hire more, but low pay could be what keeps more than 200 positions open.
"Being a law enforcement officer is a very challenging career you have to get into it for the right reasons," said Trooper Ken Watson.
Troopers like Ken Watson say they are busier than ever.
"DUI's, traffic homicide investigations, making sure the roadways here in Florida are the safest in the nation. This is our target. This is our bread and butter," he said.
In Southwest Florida, there are 44 job openings for state troopers. Across the state, more than 200 positions wait to be filled and finding new recruits hasn't been easy.
Compared to other agencies across the state, troopers with the Florida Highway Patrol make just under $34,000 a year when they start. That's about $10,000 less than other agencies. Troopers say starting pay has become a real challenge when trying to hire new recruits.
"It's very difficult to watch another candidate leave us to go somewhere else simply because of salary," said Trooper Watson. We are going to do everything we can to compete with these agencies."
He says troopers sometimes have to rely on other agencies to help fill the void on certain calls.
"The challenges come with response. We want to make sure that we are getting to every call for service as quickly as possible. Our target is less than 30 minutes," he said.
Troopers in the state of Florida are the lowest paid in the nation. The Florida Legislature passed a 5 percent raise, but it hasn't proven to be enough.
"It's very frustrating because you lose these good people and you want to keep them here and you want to see them promoted within our agency," said Trooper Watson.
Since 2010, FHP says it's lost almost 1,000 troopers to retirement or higher-paying agencies.