Legislative Analyst's Office

Analysis of the 2000-01 Budget Bill

California Highway Patrol

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is responsible for ensuring the safe, lawful, and efficient transportation of persons and goods on the state's highway system. In addition, CHP provides protective services and security for state employees and property, and carries out a variety of other mandated tasks related to law enforcement.

The budget proposes $929.9 million to support CHP in 2000-01. This is approximately $12.5 million, or 1.4 percent, above estimated current-year expenditures. Most of the increased expenditures relate to reimbursed activities, such as providing extra enforcement services at the Department of Transportation (Caltrans) construction sites.

Most of CHP's budget is funded from the Motor Vehicle Account (MVA), which generates its revenue primarily from registration fees, driver license fees, and other vehicle-related fees. For 2000-01, MVA funds would make up 91 percent of CHP's support costs.

Earlier Staffing Cuts Slowly Restored While Workload Increases

The number of California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers has slowly increased since the early 1980s, following a continuous decline in the 1970s. The increase in staff responds to increased workload and an expansion of CHP's mission. The department estimates that its current level of service is significantly below what it considers to be prudent and justified. The Legislature may want to reexamine the appropriate level of service to be provided by CHP. This would require information from the department on the additional costs of achieving given service levels.

The CHP's uniformed staffing levels have fluctuated as a result of annual budget changes and legislation. The department underwent a major expansion in the late 1960s, when vehicle registration fees were increased to add 1,900 patrol officers over a three-year period. Due to this and other augmentations, CHP staffing peaked at about 6,300 officers in 1970. Uniformed staffing then experienced a protracted decline during the 1970s and early 1980s, due largely to financial constraints and the elimination of a vehicle inspection program and some other nonpatrol functions. Chapter 933, Statutes of 1981 (AB 202, Papan) reversed this trend, providing for the addition of 670 new officers, funded through increased registration fees. Since that time, CHP's uniformed staffing has slowly recovered to about 6,750 officers, which is about 7.4 percent higher than in 1970 (see Figure 1).

Staffing Study. Chapter 1157, Statutes of 1987 (AB 2416, Zeltner) added 150 uniformed officers to the department. The following year, the department requested additional staff to address various workload increases. While the Legislature approved the request, it concluded that it lacked adequate information to evaluate the need for further staffing adjustments, and directed the department to submit a report that (1) identifies desired service levels by major traffic officer functions and (2) provides a methodology for calculating the number of officers necessary to deliver given service levels. The Legislature could then use this information to set target service levels (such as frequency of patrols and maximum acceptable response time). These target levels could subsequently provide a basis for future staffing adjustments.

The CHP completed the required study in 1991. The study provided a methodology to estimate staffing needs for the department, recommended service levels, and estimated that CHP officer staffing (at about 6,300 officers in 1990) fell about 2,000 short of what was needed in order to deliver recommended service levels.

Due to funding limitations, the administration did not request funding at the level identified by CHP's staffing study. In fact, the staffing methodology has never been used as the basis for a budget request related to officer staffing.

Trends in Workload Measures of CHP's Core Mission. In general, the core mission of CHP officers is to ensure safety and enforce laws on the state's highways and county roads in unincorporated areas. The potential workload associated with these responsibilities can be estimated in a variety of ways. For example, CHP commonly uses the total number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by motorists on California highways as a relative indicator of workload. The department believes this is an important workload measure because it assumes that with a larger number of VMT in a given year, one could expect a proportionate increase in accidents, moving violations, breakdowns, and other situations requiring CHP services. Since 1991, VMT increased 16 percent, compared with a 5.9 percent increase in CHP officers.

Several other workload measures also show increases, albeit smaller ones, since 1991. The number of licensed drivers in California increased by 3.3 percent, and the number of registered vehicles increased by 5 percent.

Department's Mission Has Expanded. Over time, CHP's mission has grown beyond its core role of ensuring safety on the state's highways and roads. Figure 2 (see next page) lists other major responsibilities assigned to CHP officers. The expansion of CHP's mission commits an increasing portion of departmental resources to tasks not directly related to traffic safety and enforcement.

Department Identifies Major Staffing Shortfall for Target Level of Services. During the 1990s, CHP grew by about 400 officers in order to accommodate new statutory duties and other workload increases. However, in CHP's view, these increases did not raise its level of service for road patrol because (1) a number of these staffing increases were not directly related to traffic safety and enforcement and (2) increased traffic safety workload absorbed the new staff.

As it did in 1990, the department continues to estimate that it would require approximately 2,000 additional officers to meet its minimum target service levels for road patrol.

Figure 2
California Highway Patrol

Responsibilities Beyond Traffic Safety

Additional Responsibilities
  • Provide security for state and legislative employees and state property.
  • Prevent and investigate passenger and commercial vehicle thefts.
  • Inspect commercial vehicles.
  • Conduct community outreach programs to non-English-speaking persons.
  • Provide backup to local law enforcement authorities.
  • Educate growers, farmers, and farm labor vehicle owners about farm labor vehicle certification requirements.

  • Legislature May Want to Reexamine CHP's Level of Service. We believe that the desired level of CHP service is a policy matter to be decided by the Legislature. In the absence of an explicit determination by the Legislature of service level targets, it is difficult to determine whether current patrol staffing levels ought to be enhanced. Given that CHP maintains that its current service level falls short of its target level, the Legislature may want to reexamine whether the current level of service by CHP is the appropriate one.

    In order to determine target service levels, the Legislature would need information on the cost of additional officers and the services they can provide. With the aid of such information, the Legislature could then consider whether an augmentation of officers might be warranted, and determine how these resources ought to be allocated to achieve the target level of service. In the following section, we suggest one method to obtain such information.

    Pilot Should Be Broadened to Provide Information
    On CHP Service Levels

    The budget proposes 35 new officers. We recommend approval of 20 positions proposed to implement two new programs created by recent legislation. However, we recommend that the proposal to add 15 motorcycle officers for a congestion relief pilot program be modified to focus instead on the officers' effect on overall level of service. We further recommend budget bill language to define the pilot and require an evaluation report.

    Governor Proposes 35 New Officers for 2000-01. The budget proposes the addition of 35 officers, for the following purposes:

    New Statutory Duties Should Be Funded. We recommend approval of the department's request for 20 positions to carry out the two new legislatively mandated programs. Without these augmentations, implementing those programs would require a diversion of resources from other CHP programs, such as traffic enforcement.

    Pilot Program Should Be Better Defined. The department proposes to launch a two-year pilot program to deploy 15 new motorcycle officers on congested freeways in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles region. These officers would patrol during peak commute hours, and would focus exclusively on relieving traffic congestion by assisting disabled vehicles and helping to remove road obstructions. The officers would coordinate with CHP-supervised roaming tow services, which are currently working these same freeways through the Freeway Service Patrol (FSP) program. The FSP is an existing program operated by Caltrans and CHP to provide free roadside assistance to stranded motorists on selected highways during commute hours.

    While we agree that reducing traffic congestion is an important goal, we believe the proposed pilot program has significant shortcomings:

    LAO Recommendation. For these reasons, we recommend that the pilot be modified. Specifically, we recommend that the 15 officers be deployed as regular patrol officers, without limiting their focus to traffic congestion or their hours to peak commute times. (We anticipate that officers will respond to accidents and other events according to the department's existing protocol.) The focus of the study should be on how the presence of additional officers affects all major service categories, including traffic enforcement and motorist assistance. In this way, the department could collect valuable data that would help in quantifying staffing needs to achieve specified service levels. We further recommend that the department incorporate results of the pilot into a report which includes an evaluation of how levels of service for major patrol activities could be affected by the addition of officers.

    Accordingly, we recommend adoption of the following budget bill language:

    2720-001-0044. Of the funds appropriated in this item, $1,664,000 shall be used for the support of 15 officers to participate in a pilot program designed to measure the effect of additional officers on California Highway Patrol (CHP) service levels. At the conclusion of the pilot, the department shall prepare a report evaluating the pilot, and shall submit the report to the Legislature by January 10, 2003. In addition to evaluating the effect of additional officers on response times and other service measures, the report shall (1) document current service levels for the traffic and nontraffic safety portions of CHP activities, (2) identify the main factors that result in workload changes, and (3) make recommendations as to how additional officers could be utilized to effectively and cost-efficiently enhance CHP's road patrol service throughout the state.

    Protective Services to Be Funded Directly

    The current system of reimbursement for the California Highway Patrol's protective services program is confusing, controversial, and inefficient. We concur with the budget proposal to eliminate that system and shift to direct funding of the program. We recommend, however, that the General Fund, rather than the Motor Vehicle Account, be utilized.

    Until 1995, protective services for state property and employees were provided by the California State Police (CSP). The CSP allocated its costs to other departments, which funded CSP through reimbursements. When the CHP absorbed CSP and its protective services mission in 1995, it continued this reimbursement-based funding mechanism. We have noted in the past that this method is inefficient and its cost-allocation methodology causes controversy and confusion among the departments. (Please see our Analysis of the 1999-00 Budget Bill, pp. A-45--A-49.)

    The 2000-01 budget proposes to fund CHP's protective services costs directly. Specifically, $29.5 million would be appropriated directly to CHP to provide protective services. About half ($15 million) of this money would come from the General Fund, and the remainder ($14.5 million) would come from the MVA.

    MVA Not Appropriate Funding Source. The MVA is funded primarily out of proceeds from vehicle registration, driver license issuance, and other vehicle-related services. In general, the State Constitution and state law require that these funds be used for enforcing laws related to vehicles or the use of highways. Since CHP's protective services functions are not clearly linked to such purposes, the MVA traditionally has not provided a significant share of funding for protective services.

    We believe that allocating half of CHP's protective services costs to the MVA is inconsistent with the intended uses for the fund. Moreover, we believe the protection of state dignitaries, employees, and property provides a general benefit to the entire state. Accordingly, we recommend that the entire cost of providing protective services ($29.5 million) be provided by the General Fund.

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