Bills calling for raises for Oklahoma troopers, correctional officers advance

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: February 22, 2013
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Oklahoma's pay for correctional officers is the lowest in the region, according to the Corrections Department. Starting pay for correctional officers is $12.98 an hour in Kansas, $13.38 an hour in Texas and $18.88 an hour in Colorado.

About 30 percent of correctional workers in Oklahoma qualify for food stamps, and about 85 percent of the staff qualifies for school lunch programs, Hickman said.

Highway Patrol Maj. Rusty Rhoades said 15 law enforcement agencies in the state, mostly police departments in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan areas, pay their beginning officers more than rookie troopers earn. Some metro-area police departments pay their rookie officers $44,200 annually.

The pay increase would put trooper pay within 90 percent of the average of the top three municipalities that employ at least 25 officers, he said. Even after the raises, the patrol would still be ranked lower than six municipalities in the state.

Of the six states bordering Oklahoma, only New Mexico pays its troopers less, Rhoades said.

HB 2145 also would authorize the public safety commissioner to annually review the entry level of municipalities with at least 25 officers and average the three highest salaries; the salary paid to cadet patrolmen would be set at 90 percent of that average salary.

Trooper numbers are down to a 22-year low of 774, Rhoades said. The patrol is authorized to have 925 troopers.

The patrol's academy, the first one in about three years, graduated 30 cadets last year; 24 troopers retired in 2012.

No money was authorized during the state's economic downturn, but lawmakers last year made the trooper academy an annual item in the patrol's budget.