Bill Lee THP

Gov. Bill Lee attends the opening of the Tennessee Highway Patrol District 8 Headquarters in Jackson, Tenn., April 2021

Last week, Gov. Bill Lee announced that Tennessee will help pay the moving expenses of any law enforcement officers from other states who want to leave their jobs because of COVID-19 vaccine mandates. They can come be state troopers here.

Fortunately, the governor has no lengthy history of hare-brained, ill-conceived ideas that land the state in trouble, so I’m sure this will be fine. See y’all back here next week. Happy Thanksgiving!

OK, but let’s just say you’re a police officer with a vaccine mandate. Maybe you have to be vaccinated by the end of the year or you’ll be fired. What do you have to do to become a Tennessee state trooper? How soon can you start collecting a paycheck in your new home state?

I went to the website Gov. Lee told people to go to: JoinTHP.com. This links you to a survey hosted at MTSU. You fill it out, and someone will get back to you about how to interview. There’s no information about the relocation program or about when out-of-work, out-of-state law enforcement officers could start working here.

So I did what I have to assume a curious out-of-state police officer would do.  I went to the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s website. It’s not immediately clear where to click to find out about jobs, but I finally decided, well, anyone who’s going to become a state trooper will need state trooper training, right? So I clicked on the training link way at the bottom of the website.

The first thing it says on this page is “Throughout the 16-week training.” Now, I did some further digging, and you get paid while you’re in training. The state isn’t asking you to do four months of training for free. So that’s good. And if you’re already a cop, you might qualify for lateral training classes, but that’s still 10 weeks — two-and-a-half months. To be clear, you’re also paid for that. This seems straightforward.

But when I clicked on the FAQ, the information is a little different:

If I am already certified as a peace officer, do I have to go through the entire Trooper School?

Yes.

How long is the Trooper School?

20 weeks.

If selected and preferred qualifications are met to attend the lateral training class, you must attend up to 16 weeks of military style training at the Training Center but must meet preferred qualification of being a POST certified officer &/or graduate from a POST academy eligible to be certified.

So maybe it’s four months of training, maybe it’s five months. Maybe if you meet certain qualifications, you’re only training for 10 weeks, or maybe 16? It seems like the kind of confusion you might want to have cleared up before your governor starts encouraging people to apply for jobs. But whatever. As long as you get paid for training, who cares how long training takes?

The real question is, if cops need to quit their jobs in their home states now to avoid vaccine mandates, how soon can they start training here?

I could not find that information on the THP’s website. I did, however, find a THP press release printed in the Chester County Independent explaining the process for getting into the training that starts in January 2022. That press release/story was dated Aug. 13, 2021, and detailed how applications were being accepted for said January training only through “11:59 p.m. CST, Tuesday, Aug. 31.”

Let me reiterate: If you wanted to attend trooper training starting in January 2022, you needed to have applied back in August and been accepted shortly after that. It is now November. So it appears that no one Lee’s encouraging to move here to be a trooper could start training in January. Those slots are already filled.

What’s the earliest they could start training? I couldn’t find that information on the THP website, but it seems likely that it would be after the January 2022 class finishes the program, since there are limited instructors and housing for trainees. This seems to indicate, then, that the cops who quit their jobs in other states now to avoid vaccine mandates could not start getting paid in Tennessee until mid-May, at the earliest, all other considerations aside.

Who could do this? Who can afford to be out of work for at least six months, waiting to see if there’s a spot for them in trooper training in a state where they don’t live? I just don’t see very many, if any, cops coming from Los Angeles or New York (two places Lee specifically mentions in his video) to take Lee up on this offer, which is really only applicable halfway into next year and doesn’t help them in their current circumstances.

In that regard, this is all bread and circuses. Lee gets to look like he’s taking a stand for law enforcement and that he’s willing to spend state money on his great anti-vax crusade, but the actual amount of money he’s going to have to shell out for this is going to be minimal, because cops aren’t going to want to wait around for months not working to see if they can get a job in Tennessee.

And considering that trooper training class sizes are dictated by the amount of job openings for state troopers at any given time, is Lee really suggesting that Tennessee would prefer to give state trooper jobs to people from out of state rather than his fellow current Tennesseans?

That’s his winning message? “I’ll give you a job that could have gone to a person right here in Tennessee if it means annoying the libs.” Seems strange to me, but I’m sure he knows what he’s doing.

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