On July 1, an important measure for the safety of our state became law. Senate Bill 1372, authored by myself and Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City), will help increase the number of public safety officers around the state.
As you’ve probably seen in the news in the last few years, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) has been facing a dangerous shortage of troopers as well as other commissioned officers within the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (DPS). Officials with the agency say they have struggled to recruit highly qualified candidates because of their education requirements, age qualifications and benefits packages. Prior to this law going into effect, candidates had 24 better options for employment in law enforcement around the state.
SB 1372 addresses two of those issues – the education requirement and the age qualification. The new law will help increase the number of OHP troopers by lowering the age limit requirement for commissioned officers within DPS from 23 to 21 years of age. It also provides honorably discharged veterans with 30 college credit hours for their military service, which can be used to meet the OHP’s Associate degree requirement. Applicants can use up to three years of military service (10 credit hours per year of service) to count as a total of 30 hours towards the education requirement.
Therefore, this new law will not only provide more OHP candidates by allowing those younger individuals who want to serve their state to have the opportunity to apply but it’ll also help provide those possessing sought-after military skills further employment opportunities. Overall, it’s going to help DPS become more competitive with other law enforcement agencies around the state and help provide better services.
The legislature also tackled another one of DPS’ recruiting problems and that was the low pay. OHP troopers, like many other state employees, hadn’t received a pay raise in seven years. Last year, a comprehensive study was conducted of all state employees’ pay including officers.
This year, we approved and the Governor signed into law SB 232 removing the previous salary schedules for the Highway Patrol, Capitol Patrol, Communications, and Driver License Examining divisions of DPS. The new law requires that the salaries of all personnel within those divisions conform to the findings of the State of Oklahoma Total Remuneration Study of 2013.
The study found that OHP Trooper salaries (starting around $38,000 a year) were well below the average salary of troopers in surrounding states. Prior to SB 232, they were ranked 7th in the region, which includes eight states. They were also the 25th lowest paid law enforcement in the state. OHP troopers now rank second in the region and fifth in the state thanks to the pay raises.
Together, these new laws should help improve the number of applicants for the OHP. In April, there were 777 OHP troopers but the agency’s optimal goal is 950. In June, 33 new troopers graduated from the 62nd academy bringing the total to 805 (as five retired).
Under SB 1372, applicants for the OHP must now:
- be 21 to 46 years of age
- have an Associate’s degree; 62 hours from an accredited college; or a
combination of 32 college credit hours and three years of honorable active or
reserve military service (counts as 30 credit hours) for a total of 62 credit hours
The OHP saw a significant increase in applications for the current 63rd OHP Academy (800 up from 500 for the 62nd Academy) thanks to these new qualifications; and they are expecting over 1,000 applications for the 64th Academy.
Application for the 63rd Academy is already closed but the agency will be seeking applications for the 64th Academy in late January/early February. For applications or to learn more, visit www.ohptroopers.com/ or www.jointheohp.com.
On a side note, I’d also like to point out that troopers weren’t the only state employees to get pay raises this year. We passed SB 2131, which provided pay raises ranging from 5% to 13.5% to more than 12,000 of Oklahoma’s lowest paid state employees at 25 agencies including social workers, nurses and Corrections officers among others.
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Josh Brecheen, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 413, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (405) 521-5586.