Funding problems grow for the OHP

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol is smaller today than it was when I joined in 1990. In 1990, the Patrol had 825 troopers; today there are 805. That number, which includes the commissioner and chief, will not increase anytime soon. If funded by the Legislature, it will be 2018 before we have another Trooper Patrol Academy. By 2018, Oklahoma will be fortunate to have 750 troopers.

It is an enormous responsibility to serve the State of Oklahoma when the OHP is smaller than the Oklahoma City Police Department. Oklahoma’s official population has increased almost a million since 1990. In addition, miles of highways and four new turnpikes have been added across Oklahoma since then. The OHP hasn’t grown with Oklahoma.

The public may not notice the absence of the OHP’s presence in our larger metro areas. Having started as a trooper in a rural assignment, I believe the rural counties of Oklahoma have the most ownership in “their troopers.” The result is enduring relationships between the community and the OHP.

Since 1937, the OHP has faithfully answered the call of duty in Oklahoma’s time of need. In 1973, when state prisoners seized control of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, the OHP was there.

On May 26, 1978, Oklahoma troopers ended a multi-state killing spree by escaped convicts. It came at a heavy price. Three troopers died that fateful day and another was seriously injured. It was the patrol’s darkest day. Currently, 35 brave men have given their lives in service to Oklahoma.

On April 19, 1995, our nation was shaken to its core by the heartless act of domestic terrorism that killed 168 innocent Oklahomans. On that day, Tim McVeigh, the worst mass murderer in the modern history of Oklahoma, was arrested by Trooper Charlie Hanger.

In 2016, busloads of confrontational activists threatened to descend on Tulsa after a contentious police shooting. Troopers were there to help protect lives and property in Tulsa. When Michael Vance killed two civilians and shot three law enforcement officers in his violent rampage across Oklahoma, the patrol was there to stop him. Troopers will always be there to support Oklahoma around the clock.

A recent example that troopers are always willing to risk their life for Oklahoma is Trooper Brian Costanza. Costanza kissed his wife goodbye and drove 237 miles to confront Michael Vance in western Oklahoma. It wasn’t because Costanza had relatives in Leedy, Oklahoma, it was because he swore an oath to protect and serve all of Oklahoma. As Costanza courageously pursued Vance, his patrol car was struck 11 times from a high-powered rifle. The unflinching truth is, any of those lethal rounds could have made Costanza’s wife a widow or left his children without a father. That is the type of selfless service Oklahomans have come to expect from State Troopers.

As we navigate through this time in our nation’s history where law enforcement officers are being targeted and killed simply for wearing a uniform, it is my opinion that we must have a sufficient, well-trained Oklahoma Highway Patrol to respond to the complex needs of our state. Public safety is a core function of government; not funding public safety could significantly put Oklahomans at risk.

Our elected legislators are a diverse group but collectively reflect the values of their constituents. This upcoming legislative session is critical to the OHP’s ability to serve and protect Oklahoma. If public safety is important to you, please get involved and courteously let your elected representative know you support the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Thank you.