During the 2012 session, legislators found $5 million in supplemental funding for an academy to train new Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers. The OHP had gone three years without conducting one of its academies, which should be held annually to help keep up with retirements and attrition.
This wasn't the first such interruption for the OHP. Academies were canceled in 2003 or 2004 too, due to funding cuts. Now the agency has 776 troopers, well short of the 925 it is authorized to carry on the rolls. These men and women are spread thin — the patrol is responsible for 98,000 miles of roadway and 4,000 miles of shoreline. Troopers ride alone much of the time. Some regularly cover parts of two counties during their shifts.
And they do it for less money than many of their peers, something the Legislature should address in 2013.
OHP Capt. Pete Norwood says the patrol is 15th in pay among state law enforcement agencies. That pay is a factor in recruiting and keeping troopers. Cadets entering the patrol are paid $33,192, an amount that climbs to $38,000 upon graduation. Troopers get step pay increases for seven years; any further raises come with promotions.
Retaining personnel, in part through better pay, is especially important given that more than 220 current troopers are eligible for retirement. Lawmakers need to consider this next session, just as they must consider the Department of Corrections' plea to fund better pay for prison guards. Our teeming prisons are manned all too often by badly outnumbered and poorly paid officers. The DOC has the funding to fill just 69 percent of authorized positions, and hasn't even been able to do that because of the pay and working conditions.
Republicans who control the Legislature talk often about right-sizing state government. Doing so may require not cutting or raising taxes, but putting more revenue into certain needs.