Eighty-one cadets donning gray and black dress uniforms graduated in the 153rd class, believed to be the largest in the patrol's 80-year history. More new troopers will graduate April 5 with the 154th class, which has 64 members.
Their addition is expected to bump up staffing to around 1,600 sworn officers, a level the patrol hasn't seen since 2006. That will mean troopers can do more proactive work, rather than being limited sometimes to a more reactive role because of smaller staff sizes, said Col. John Born, the patrol's superintendent.
"You start just getting into a reactive mode, so you're not able to prevent crashes, you're more responding to crashes," he said. "So what this class will do is help us recover from that."
The patrol ended up short-staffed because it didn't graduate any cadets in 2008 or 2010 and was losing about 60 people annually, mostly through attrition, spokeswoman Lt. Anne Ralston said. The number of troopers, she said, at times dropped to "critical levels," when posts operated at minimum staffing and some didn't have night shifts.
The newest troopers will be added to 37 of Ohio's 57 patrol posts to help increase staffing to what the patrol considers appropriate levels, typically about a dozen officers to have three shifts at a post, Ralston said. The troopers report to their new posts Saturday to begin field training guided by veteran officers.
Kaitlyn Griffith, a 22-year-old from Orrville who is joining the Canton post, said she thinks the higher staff numbers will boost safety for the public and for troopers.
"With more of us out there, when we need backup, we're going to get it sooner," she said.
The class speaker and top overall performer, Brian Cowles, a 21-year-old from Poland, said he was relieved and proud to be finished with the 22 weeks of training, which included driving and munitions instruction — his favorites — along with criminal and traffic law, physical fitness, crash investigation and other topics. He also said he's happy to be part of the boost in staffing.
"It feels really good," said Cowles, who will return to suburban Youngstown to work at the Canfield post. "I'm glad I was able to get in, because I've always wanted to do this since I was a kid."
The training is seen as an investment for the patrol and its $300 million-plus annual operation. It costs roughly $38,000 per cadet, which includes their pay and benefits during training and expenses such as outfits, meals and ammunition, Ralston said.