TULSA - Their job is to protect and serve, but that's hard to do when there aren't enough troopers.
“He’s headed east in the westbound lanes,” said Trooper Mike Moler over his radio shown on body camera footage last year.
In March, he tried pulling over a truck with a broken tail light on I-240.
“He’s blowing stoplights, stop signs barely missing citizens,” said Lt. Kera Philippi of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol at a preceding press conference.
Things escalated quickly.
“That trooper, he was the only one out in this area that morning. From what I understand the next nearest trooper was on the Kilpatrick Turnpike,” said Lt. Philippi.
With no backup from his own department nearby the trooper had to call an Oklahoma City Police officer when officials say the suspect started a high speed chase.
The trooper shot and killed the suspect when he finally crashed in a front yard.
“We’re having to depend on these other departments to help us on these high-risk traffic stops,” said Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Dwight Durant.
He’s in agreement, a situation like this can escalate faster when a department is severely understaffed.
“Right now, we’re barely holding on to what we’ve got,” he said.
The department needs 950 troopers to qualify as fully-staffed.
Right now it only has 781 for the entire state.
That’s compared to the 710 officers for the city of Tulsa.
2 Works for You asked Trooper Durant if people’s safety is at stake.
“Absolutely it is,” he said.
Bomb teams, lake patrols, highway accident responses, flat tire stops all take a hit.
“If we get a call, we’re coming. But if the manpower keeps going down the way it is our response time is going to be greatly reduced,” he said.
The department’s first academy in years, funded by the Turnpike Authority not the state, is training right now.
It promises at least 30 new troopers, but that’s only enough to account for the retirements they anticipate by the end of the year.
“But if it goes down any further, it’s going to be a crisis.”
A crisis determined by what the state government allocates for the Department of Public Safety this year.
OHP hoping troopers’ and the public’s safety will be a state priority come budget time.
OHP is planning for another academy in 2019.
But Trooper Durant said it can’t determine how many applicants they can afford to train until after the hiring process closes.
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