Audit: Troopers violated policy with long work commutes

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RALEIGH (AP) — The North Carolina Highway Patrol says it has addressed recent problems reported in a state audit that found some patrol administrators and troopers violating agency policy by commuting long distances to work.

State Auditor Beth Wood's office released her investigation's findings Monday. They originated from a tip to the office's hotline.

The audit found eight troopers last year failed to maintain their primary residence in the county where they worked or within 20 miles of the county line as required. Some officers lived more than 100 miles away, with one unidentified patrol captain keeping his primary residence in Morganton, 187 miles from his duty station in Wake County.

There's a way to seek exemption from the policy, but the troopers failed to complete a form to do so. The distances they drove with assigned vehicles increased maintenance costs for the state and may have delayed response times to emergencies, the report's authors wrote.

Patrol management "created an environment where subordinate troopers were able to rationalize noncompliance or completely disregard the policy," says the report, which also recommended GPS devices on patrol cruisers and other vehicles to ensure their proper use.

Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks, whose department oversees the 1,600 troopers, agreed with the audit findings and pointed out changes under new patrol commander Col. Glenn McNeill, appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper.

In a written response attached to the audit, Hooks said there's a new commuting policy that focuses on response time rather than mileage and allows McNeill to make exceptions "to prevent a hardship or when in the best interest of the patrol." Hooks said each of the patrol employees cited in the report is complying with the policy.

Highway Patrol command staff "has communicated a clear message that the residency policy is to be strictly and evenly enforced," Hooks wrote, and those who fail to comply with the policy or adequately enforce it "will be dealt with appropriately."

The report said a majority of the troopers cited initially told auditors they were not commuting to and from their primary residences - defined where their families live. But auditors reviewed records they say showed the eight were refueling near their primary homes during the week. The troopers ultimately acknowledged driving to those residences.