OKLAHOMA CITY - After two years without an academy class to replace the ranks of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, a funding deal will add approximately 30 troopers to the roads in 2018.
"Without the (Oklahoma Turnpike Authority) we wouldn’t be able to pull this off," said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson.
Thompson made the comments at a press conference with legislators, Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) officials late Thursday afternoon.
Instead of being funded through the state budget, OTA will provide $5 million to go towards an Oklahoma Highway Patrol academy, starting early next year.
“This academy will help us to actually put some troopers on the roadway in 2018," said OHP Patrol Chief, Col. Ricky Adams. "Enough to at least keep us at a stable level through this crisis we’re doing right now."
DPS says perfect staffing levels of the OHP -- from the commissioner to troopers -- is 1,104; minimum staffing levels are 950, but current staffing levels are at 790, with more out the door next year because of retirement. Of the current troopers, 26 percent can retire at any time.
“Staffing wise, we’ve got some glaring needs across the state of Oklahoma," said Thompson, "But this Oklahoma Turnpike Authority offer to us is going to help us tremendously.”
The $5 million from the OTA will go towards training and outfitting troopers in their first year, a cost of more than $157,000 per trooper.
Last year the OTA funded a trooper academy class of about 30 troopers, but all went to work on the turnpikes.
“The ability to assist with the academy, to ensure that we can maintain that strong presence for the future is important to us and it’s important to the state and we’re just happy to be a part of it," said OTA Executive Director Tim Gatz.
A full academy class costs about $8.4 million. The last general OHP class was in 2015. The 2018 class, Thompson says, has no strings attached.
“We’re going to put the troopers where we need them," he said.
Beset by the state's budget woes and revenue failures, the OHP has had to cut back on miles driven by troopers and reduce often unseen services as the state faces an $878 million budget shortfall.
Thompson says if a budget is passed with the current estimated funding levels -- an increase of more than seven percent from last year -- the cost-savings measures will be lifted.
But it's unclear if money will be appropriated in the future to have another class in 2019.