Oklahoma Highway Patrol turns 75, but traffic safety remains primary objective

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol was formed 75 years ago in part to battle notorious criminals such as Pretty Boy Floyd and Bonnie and Clyde. Troopers still are on the front lines catching today's worst villains like Timothy McVeigh.
BY BRYAN DEAN bdean@opubco.com Published: April 8, 2012

The most notorious criminal in Oklahoma's history was caught 75 minutes after his crime by a sharp-eyed Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper who noticed a car didn't have a tag.

As the patrol celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, banner moments like the apprehension of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh stand out. But the agency's broader goal of keeping state roadways safe remains an everyday job, and one troopers take seriously, said Col. Kerry Pettingill, chief of the patrol.

“Here we are 75 years later, and the technology has changed, but our primary objective remains the same, and that's traffic safety,” Pettingill said.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol was established April 20, 1937, when then-Gov. E.W. Marland signed legislation authorizing the creation of a state police force.

The state had become a haven for famous criminals such as Pretty Boy Floyd and Bonnie and Clyde.

Organized gangsters and criminals driving fast cars — and armed with submachine guns and other heavy weapons — took advantage of jurisdictional borders like county lines to thwart law enforcement. A state police force could avoid these boundaries and enforce traffic laws on a broad scale on the state's ever-growing network of roads and highways.

The patrol was the first law enforcement agency in the nation to use aircraft as a regular law enforcement tool, buying its first airplane in 1948. As the state police force, the agency often is on the leading edge of law enforcement technology and training, and uses those assets to act as a supplement to local law enforcement agencies when needed.

The patrol has a tactical team, a dive team, an aircraft division and other resources that can help when specialized skills are needed.

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