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Safety commissioner says state troopers to focus on mental health awareness, standards that prioritize life

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Department of Safety Commissioner Tim Tipton gave an update Friday to lawmakers on agencies he oversees.

In a presentation and question session that lasted about 80 minutes, Tipton touched on topics including hiring and retention of state troopers for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

“We’re going to run into a crisis in the next 30 months,” said Tipton.

Tipton attributed losses to retirements, “cultural issues” like the movement to defund police, and a generally competitive employment atmosphere that makes it difficult to hire competent public servants.

“We’re not gonna lower our standards,” said Tipton. “How do we attract people that are quality who want to be a state trooper?”

Tipton said his agency has been focused on highway patrol but now more is demanded, especially when OHP is on called on to assist “county and municipal agencies.”

“Because we focus on more of a traditional highway patrol job, we’ve fallen behind in our ability to meet the standards,” said Tipton. “These are federal guidelines. If we don’t get in front of them, we’re not going to have a choice.”

Tipton mentioned awareness of mental health issues and critical incident response.

“Making sure we’re following the standards going forward with less than lethal opportunities and things like that. We’ve kinda really not paid a whole lot of attention to that. If you look at some states, already they’re in crisis over not paying attention to it. That’s a big initiative,” said Tipton.

Among supplemental appropriations requested for fiscal year 2023 is $8 million for the OHP academy, said Tipton. He spoke about a potential partnership with OSU that would see state troopers earning degrees in police science.

“We’re excited to partner with higher ed and make that work.”

Tipton is also requesting $1.2 million for driver’s license services that would create an additional 21 examiner positions.

Rep. Rick West (R-LeFlore) praised OHP and its officers for everything from their physical fitness to their responses to civil rights protests.

“These guys have 28-inch necks and 18-inch waists and they do their job. And then when the Black Lives Matter came in, they stopped that deal pretty quick, too. They’re just a very impressive group of men."

West held forth for about six minutes, finally ending with a question to Tipton on whether or not potential OHP troopers would get credit during the hiring process for military service.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.