Changes proposed to increase OHP troopers

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ARDMORE, OK - The Oklahoma Highway patrol's Troop F patrols 6 counties and I-35. Currently they have 28 troopers to cover that ground, but Captain Ronnie Hampton said they should have 32.

"Most counties in Oklahoma a trooper's covering one to three counties on a shift," said Hampton. "It's rare that we have more than one out at a certain time so we're pretty severely shorthanded."

That shortage of troopers is why Senator Josh Brecheen has authored a bill that would increase the pool of applicants. By lowering the age requirements from 23 to 21 and the education requirements from a bachelors degree to an associates degree.

Applicants with military service could get up to 30 credits hours toward the education requirement. The senator said experience serving our country would translate well to the highway patrol.

"They're learning how to deal with stress, how to take orders, how to be a good leader," Brecheen said. "Those are all attributes OHP looks for."

In years past OHP averaged 600 to 800 applicants to their academy. Last year 557 applied, 147 were deemed eligible and 54 were actually accepted into the academy.

In addition to the bill, Governor Mary Fallin has proposed a 4.5 percent funding increase to the Department of Public Safety for a trooper pay raise. Hampton said the starting pay of $33,192 is costing the OHP potential--and present--troopers.

"Naturally that does go toward our ability to recruit and also retain," Hampton said. "We've lost several people even right here in Ardmore. We've had two troopers resign this year just to go into the oil field."

Brecheen's bill has advanced from the Senate Public Safety Committee and will be scheduled for discussion on the Senate floor.

The pay raise is part of Fallin's proposed budget for the next fiscal year.