"We save lives."

Editor's note: This is the third in a four-part series that looks at the role of law enforcement in McPherson County. This part includes information from the Kansas Highway Patrol.

Most people encounter the Kansas Highway Patrol when they get caught speeding on the Interstate. However, state troopers do much more than just write tickets. As trooper Ben Gardner puts it, "We save lives."

The Kansas Highway Patrol employs 400 troopers to cover the state's roadways. This includes watching for criminal activity and drugs, as well as reducing or limiting the number of crashes in Kansas.

It's a lot of ground to cover; Gardner said an average trooper drives 200 miles each day on patrols or performing other duties.

"We focus on trouble areas to reduce the chance of accidents, wether that's through improved visibility or just officer presence," Gardner said. "When people think of state troopers, they think of writing tickets, but it's a lot more than that."

The highway patrol also provides security for the governor and can pioneer technology that's outside the means of county or city law enforcement departments. This can range from reporting software to K9 units and aircraft.

"We can use these resources to assist other agencies," Gardner said. "For example, if there's a manhunt, we can use aircraft to circle the area and report if the person is spotted."

Gardner said troopers spend a lot of time preventing emergencies.

On Wednesday, he was in Hutchinson teaching a bicycle safety course to children, including laws regarding bike riding on streets.

Troopers also assist in training and certifying other agencies on drug interdiction and tests to determine if a motorist is driving under the influence.

Gardner said the Kansas Highway Patrol has few challenges, but the main one is finding enough qualified people to fill vacancies — the troopers have about 100.

"I think our only sole challenge is in recruitment, finding enough people to fill the uniform," he said. "We have a good reputation across the state, and I think we're well-respected."

Gardner said maintaining that reputation is an important duty of every person who wears the highway patrol uniform.

"When people see that uniform or patrol car, you want that good reputation behind it," he said.

The negative climate surrounding law enforcement officers has brought some difficult relationships to light, but Gardner said it has also brought out the good ones as well.

"People say to me they couldn't do my job, or that it's hard out there for us right now," Gardner said. "What I would say is now is the best time to be in law enforcement in my 17 years. There's so much support and praise laid on us daily. It's not something people have thought about in the past."

Gardner said people will regularly take the time to show their appreciation and support for law enforcement, something that hasn't happened in the past.

"There are challenging things any agency has to work through," he said. "But you want to make sure you're always building the community and relating to the people we serve."