OKLAHOMA CITY - After losing millions in previous budget reductions in FY17, officials at the Department of Public Safety and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol are viewing a potential 15 percent budget cut for FY18 as a significant risk to public safety for the public, local law enforcement and State Troopers.
On March 7, DPS was requested to compile a list of the impacts of a potential 15 percent across-the-board budget cut. The analysis resulted in alarming concerns from DPS/OHP officials.
OHP Chief Rick Adams said, “The perilous security environment created by a 15 percent budget cut places citizens at increased risk, local law enforcement at risk and our troopers’ lives at risk. This is a gathering Public Safety Crisis that can only be fixed by adequate funding, and everyone will feel the impact. Further triaging of resources, further cuts in mileage and no manpower replacements – all at a time when 26 percent of the OHP is eligible for retirement – makes this evolving situation far more sinister than budget crises of the past.”
Adams continued: “The OHP is the only state law enforcement agency with a permanent presence in all of Oklahoma's 77 counties, to proactively prevent crime and traffic deaths. Troopers routinely protect Oklahomans from ‘things that go bump in the night’ as we carry out a wide range of mission demands. Those missions range from traditional traffic and commercial motor carrier enforcement, patrolling our waterways, providing statewide air support, antiterrorism efforts, bomb team capability, dealing with natural and manmade disasters, providing forces to quell riots and civil disturbances, the interruption and interdiction of criminal activity, conducting many types of criminal investigations, protecting the Governor and securing the capitol complex, and tracking down many of the state’s most dangerous criminals. Which of these missions do we abandon?”
The next threat to Oklahomans could come from anywhere, without warning, Adams said, requiring the OHP to bring decisive action with a well-trained, well-equipped force flexible enough to adapt to any situation.
“These cuts will force deeper operational restrictions, elimination of missions, possible closure of Headquarters, furloughs, and possible layoffs of troopers and other DPS employees. This Public Safety Crisis harms DPS and the OHP and will put lives at risk."
Assistant Commissioner Gerald Davidson stated that, with an additional 15 percent cut, DPS will not be able to maintain our current reduced level of services. This level of cut would be catastrophic to public safety. The following is a short list of actions the agency will have to consider:
The certainty of 23 furlough days for troopers and DPS personnel
A Reduction in Force (RIF) of both troopers and DPS employees across the state is highly probable
A hard hiring freeze on DPS and OHP personnel. Any reduction of DPS/OHP personnel will directly impact the public by increasing response time by OHP in the case of emergencies or the need for assistance. Additionally, the public will experience substantially increased wait times for all services provided by DPS such as driver license issuance and reinstatement, obtaining accident records, handicap placards, etc.
A halt of ongoing maintenance of the state’s radio system which is utilized by, and would impact, not only law enforcement at the state level, but also hinder local fire departments and municipal police departments’ ability to respond to local incidents
A halt of ongoing upgrade and replacement of aging computer networks, which will affect the Real ID rollout
Closure of select driver license stations around the state, as manpower reduces. This could potentially reduce the number of testing stations from 36 to 12. This will result in increased drive times to obtain driver license/ID cards as well as increase wait times at these facilities
No future OHP Academy until 2019 or beyond. OHP is currently 154 troopers under minimum manning requirements. Delaying an Academy until 2019 or 2020 would put OHP strength just above 650 of the 950 minimum requirement. This critically low staffing number means response times to collisions and other emergencies would be drastically increased
OHP future patrol car purchases would only be considered on a case-by-case basis. Troopers will drive patrol cars considerably longer, which compromises the safety of troopers responding to emergencies
OHP mileage restrictions and other resource-saving measures will deepen, impacting courts, other state agencies and local jurisdictions
OHP Aircraft operations will fly only life safety missions and would no longer be available to provide assistance for non-life-threatening events
Elimination of the OHP Motorcycle Division, liquidation of assets and cancellation of Motorcycle Safety programs
Downscaling of the OHP Training Division; will no longer be able to assist in sponsoring CLEET Basic Course
OHP Marine Enforcement Division and Dive Team will be forced to only respond to calls on State Lakes and would no longer be available to respond to private property incidents (i.e. private property drownings)
Possible closure of aging OHP Troop Headquarters and consolidation of communication centers
Reduced OHP manpower provided to State and Federal Task Forces
Further reductions of current OHP manpower at the capitol complex
Additional cuts of services could become necessary
“A budget cut this significant is unsustainable for DPS/OHP,” said DPS Commissioner Michael C. Thompson. “The department exists to help protect the public, and this cut makes our mission incredibly challenging. The proposed cut for FY18, on the heels of deep FY17 cuts, will cripple our agency’s ability to serve Oklahoma. Difficult choices are inevitable if this cut becomes a reality.”