FOX23 INVESTIGATION: The impact of budget cuts on Oklahoma troopers

By: Shae Rozzi

Updated:

Quick Facts:

  • State budget cuts led to a 100 mile-per-day travel limit for Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers
  • Troopers told FOX23 it’s impacting how much they interact with the public.
  • FOX23’s Shae Rozzi is taking a closer look at what impact it could be having on your safety

 

The 100-mile-a-day travel limit imposed on Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers is putting the safety of troopers and the public at risk, troopers told FOX23.

“This is what we do right here.. Sit and wait,” said Trooper Jamie Guinn in Tulsa County.

FOX23’s Shae Rozzi rode along with Guinn and did the same with Trooper Tony Harper in Payne County.

“Sometimes you can sit out here forever and there'd be nothing,” said Harper.

While it sounds boring, it is the new normal: From December through June, troopers are limited to 100 miles a day to save money on gas and wear and tear on their cars.

It’s expected to save about $400,000 during Oklahoma’s budget crisis.

Both troopers described the dangers to FOX23 and wonder if the rules are worth the cost.

“With officers being ambushed and killed when they were just sitting in their cars-- I am, if somebody had ill intentions, I'm here right for the picking,” Guinn said.

“It's harder to hit a moving target, but if you're sitting somewhere and someone knows that you're sitting somewhere and they have bad intentions, bam -- perfect opportunity,” Harper said.

Both said it’s also more difficult and dangerous to try to stop suspicious drivers when they have to go from 0 on the side of the road to catching up to people at highway speeds in rush-hour traffic.

Drivers shared their concerns with FOX23.

“I didn't see very many this time. I usually see more,” said Yolanda Brassfield, who drives from Arkansas to Tulsa for cancer treatments.

“I would love for them to be out there so I could feel protected."

“I think it makes more drivers be cautious and drive a little more carefully. I feel like a lot of people out here drive a little crazy,” said another driver.

“We want them to catch pounds of drugs coming in and out of the state,” said another.

Troopers do too, and FOX23 has reported on multiple drug busts across the state that started with minor traffic violations.

“People are thinking, 'Well, they're not out there enforcing the law, so we can pretty much do what we want,'” Guinn said.

FOX23 crunched the numbers from an open records request to OHP, looking at the period from October 2016 to January 2017 and the same four-month period a year earlier, and found 3,000 fewer speeding tickets. With each ticket averaging a couple of hundred dollars, that’s potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars not being generated.

What’s more important than tickets to Guinn are enforcement contacts or interactions, when troopers help drivers or check out abandoned cars or crashes, such as when he helped a woman whose car stopped in the center median on the Broken Arrow Expressway.

He told FOX23 that his contacts dropped from 120 a month to about 60 since the mileage restriction went into effect.

But what if he hits 100 miles and you need help?

“If we're dispatched to it, we got to go,” Harper said.

Troopers will respond and balance out their miles on their next shift. That could mean Guinn sitting at headquarters in Tulsa until a call comes in.

Troopers in rural counties may sit at their local police departments to wait.

It could also slow their response times, depending on how far away the next call comes from.

“(We) go from complete boredom to, 'Oh, my God, I could possibly die,’” Guinn said.


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