NewsChannel 5 Investigates Cost Of Trooper Escorts
by Ben Hall
NASHVILLE, Tenn.- If you want the star treatment from the Highway Patrol, call a district captain and ask for a trooper escort.
A NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered troopers provide escorts to the famous and well connected, on taxpayer time.
The escorts take troopers off the interstates they are supposed to be patrolling and can put their lives at risk.
Trooper Andy Wall died last May, escorting pilots performing in an show from their hotel, to the Smyrna Airport.
Wall's motorcycle ran into a car that stopped abruptly when it saw the escort coming.
"I was terribly shocked that he was killed in the manner that he was killed," said State Rep. David Shepard, D-Dickson, who is also a family friend.
Representative Shepard was surprised state troopers provided escorts for pilots performing in air shows.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Do you think that's an appropriate escort?"
Shepard responded, "I don't. I think that's a questionable escort."
Our investigation discovered troopers regularly escort entertainers, sports teams and charity events.
"The state dollar is being used to pay for this," Shepard said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "What do you think about that?"
"I think it's terrible," the state representative responded.
In 2009, 13 Highway Patrol troopers spent some part of 11 hours escorting Bruce Springsteen from the Smyrna Airport to perform at Bonnaroo.
Last year, troopers escorted Jay Z and his wife, Beyonce' to the event.
They've also escorted Sting and, ironically, the band The Police to Bonnaroo.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked the head of the Highway Patrol, "Why does the THP need to be escorting Jay Z and Beyonce' to Bonnaroo?"
Col. Tracy Trott responded, "I think it's a consideration that these are mega stars in the entertainment world. We want to make sure Bonnaroo goes off in a very normal, calm fashion."
Trott guesses the THP does one or two escorts a week.
He's now ordering district captains to review how they assign future escorts.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Will there be fewer escorts as a result of some review or not?"
Trott responded, "I really can't answer that, because I don't know how many are being done to begin with."
The THP does not keep track of the escorts it provides, but after looking through numerous records we discovered multiple escorts for antique cars shows, bike convoys and family member funerals.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "The mother of a dispatcher, a funeral escort. Is that appropriate?"
Trott responded, "These were probably requested by the family because they are part of the Department of Safety. We usually don't tie up very many units on that."
But most Highway Patrol escorts involve sports teams.
In August, we followed a trooper as he escorted the Western Kentucky Football team from a practice at LP field to their hotel in Franklin.
"I don't think we need to be escorting a team to a hotel off the interstate. They can find their own hotel," Trott acknowledged.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, "But you've done that."
Trott said, "Yes, we have."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "If you have concerns about it, why does it happen?"
the THP colonel responded, "Well the captain on the local level made a decision."
Representative Shepard said in a time when the state is cutting back on everything, this is not a good use of taxpayer resources and money.
"I got people hurting in my district. If they saw this, I think they would be outraged, and I'm outraged," Shepard said.
But he was most surprised that the state does the escorts for free.
Metro Nashville provides off duty police officers for football teams in town playing the Titans, but Metro charges up to $70 an hour, per officer.
"There should be some reimbursement back to the state for a service," Shepard said.
Colonel Trott says the THP provides escorts as a public service.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Have you thought about charging for some of these escorts? These people can pay."
Trott responded, "Well we don't do anything for money, and we don't want to be seen as a money making organization."
But the death of Trooper Wall shows money is not the only issue. Troopers are risking their lives.
Representative Shepard said, "I don't want to go to any more funerals for Tennessee Highway Patrol officers, especially one that could have been avoided."