Cost of living in area keeps troopers away

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— For almost five years, Colorado State Trooper Duane Bradley has tried to stabilize a unit that has a high turnover rate due to the cost of living in Steamboat Springs.
When Sgt. Bradley took over the state patrol's operation in Steamboat Springs, he took over a unit of seven troopers. Since that time, six of the troopers have moved on.
"We get troopers that come up here through the academy," said Bradley, who has been in the state patrol for 19 years. "In about three years, they move on."
Steamboat Springs is not alone when it comes to high turnover rate for troopers. State patrol operations in similar resort areas that include places such as Frisco experience the same problems because of the cost of living.
After graduating from the academy, troopers must agree to stay two years at their first assignment. Usually, the new troopers are put in resort areas.
"What we have experienced is the new troopers will stay the minimum time here," Bradley said.
Currently, two out of the seven troopers who work out of the Steamboat office have more than two years of experience. Trooper Brett Hilling has been working in Steamboat for five years, and Trooper Brad Keadle has been working out of the office for more than four years.
The trooper with the next most experience came on board in July 1998. Another trooper started working here in January 1999. The remaining three troopers started working out of the Steamboat office this summer, Bradley said.
"I do not know how long the new guys will stay," Bradley said. "I have been trying to build a team that will stay here.
"But the complaint is there is a high cost of living here."
After the two-year commitment is complete, Bradley has seen many of his troopers go to areas where the cost of living is less than here, he said.
"They go somewhere else where they can buy a house or have one built," he said. "They go to Fort Morgan or Grand Junction, where the cost of living is much less."
Hilling, 37, almost went to Grand Junction. After his two years were up, he tried to transfer to Mesa County, where he worked as a deputy prior to becoming a trooper.
The transfer did not work out, and Hilling was able to find housing south of Hayden.
"Housing is critical," Hilling said. "I was able to find good housing. It is in the country, and it was what I wanted."
Hilling believes it is important for a trooper to get to know the community in order to stay here.
"I had to stick with it and get to know the community," he said. "I had to become part of the community. A lot of guys can't do that because it is so hard to get through those first years."
Bradley is frustrated the Steamboat office has been unable to keep troopers here. Troopers that leave are usually replaced with ones with less experience, he said. This means the station is constantly training new troopers.
"We spend an awful lot of time training these troopers," he said. "They come out of the academy knowing the bookwork. Working on the job is a learning process."
By the time the trooper has a good grasp of the job, the trooper leaves, he said.
"Some place else gets all the benefit of all the work we did to train these troopers," he said. "We don't get the benefit of a well-experienced trooper because we train them, and then they go someplace else."
Hilling, who is a training officer, agrees.
"For each guy that leaves, I will train the new trooper for two months," he said. "Out of the last eight months, four of those I have spent training new troopers and my regular duties don't decrease."
When a trooper decides to leave, Hilling is disappointed but does not blame the person for leaving.
"It is disappointing because of all the work and effort we put in to build this team," he said. "We can't fault him, but we are going to have to train again."

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