By Eric Schelzig
NASHVILLE, Tenn.– State troopers want to drop the word ‘highway’ from their agency’s name and become known as the Tennessee State Patrol.
The Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday unanimously advanced a measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Southerland of Morristown to a full floor vote after receiving assurances that the change would not be a step toward creating a state police force.
The Tennessee Blue Book notes that the “Tennessee Highway Patrol’s primary responsibility is traffic enforcement,” but Col. Tracy Trott told the panel that the name change would better reflect activities that also include riot squads, bomb detection units and SWAT teams.
“It’s something that I think better depicts a modern state law enforcement agency,” the THP commander said.
Trott said the proposal did not originate with Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, but added that Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons “does not object” to the proposal.
Assistant Safety Commissioner David Purkey, a former state trooper, also spoke in favor of changing the name of the agency created in1929.
“For years I have heard troopers mention that they would like to be depicted more fairly to reflect what the department does, and what they do as state troopers,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Safety Department said the agency does not maintain statistics on what portion of the THP’s activities are dedicated to areas other than traffic enforcement.
The THP’s organizational structure was overhauled during the administration of former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in response to a series of scandals that included troopers with criminal records, allegations of ticket-fixing and a culture of cronyism and political arm-twisting.
One trooper was fired in 2008 for conducting unauthorized background checks on nearly 200 people, and another one resigned a year earlier after a porn actress claimed he let drug charges slide in exchange for sex acts captured on video.
Trott said the name change would not cost anything because it would be phased in on new vehicles and materials such as stationery and reports.
Costs and the perception of the motivation for the change were the only concerns raised by committee members.
“I think we’ve always tried in Tennessee, as far as I know, to make plain that we don’t have a state police force like Kentucky,” said Democratic Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville.
Trott said the proposal is not an attempt to change the THP’s mission.
“This is not a first step toward a state police organization,” he said. “We are not asking for any more authority, and we would not accept any more authority.
“This is simply a cosmetic name change to better depict what we do now.”