Okla. lawmakers look at consolidating law enforcement
A legislative study will explore cost-efficient ways for state law enforcement agencies to share materials, equipment
By Tim Talley
OKLAHOMA CITY — Facing the prospect of another budget shortfall next year, Oklahoma lawmakers are looking for ways to make state law enforcement agencies more efficient by consolidating services and resources to better control costs.
Republican Rep. Mike Christian, a retired Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper from Oklahoma City, plans to lead a legislative study to explore cost-efficient ways for state law enforcement agencies to share materials, equipment and other assets.
The study will coincide with a separate effort by the Oklahoma Justice Reform Committee, a task force appointed by Gov. Mary Fallin, to develop policies to make state law enforcement agencies more effective while operating more efficiently.
Oklahoma's public safety agencies were largely shielded from budget cuts that ranged from 1 percent to 7.25 percent in a $7.1 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. In finalizing the budget, lawmakers wrestled with a $611 million budget hole that was plugged mostly with one-time sources of revenue.
Christian said legislative budget writers will likely be faced with a similar budget hole next year, giving renewed urgency to their efforts to find ways to reduce costs.
"With the budget picture not looking real good, whatever we do it can't be costly," Christian said.
Sharing aircraft, tactical vehicles, training sites and communications services and improving the flow of information among state law enforcement agencies are ideas that lawmakers may consider, he said.
"How can we utilize recourses better? How can we utilize assets better?" said Darrell Weaver, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. "What we're seeing is really a collaborative effort on how we can serve citizens better."
Those ideas are also being considered by members of the governor's task force, but members said no cost-cutting proposal can be allowed to compromise public safety.
"If we're looking at the budget being the only driver on this, that doesn't necessarily provide you with public safety," said Col. Rick Adams, chief of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and a member of the task force's policing subcommittee.
"Whatever is proposed by the Legislature, the No. 1 goal should be to enhance public safety," said Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, a member of the subcommittee and a former police officer.
"And as we provide appropriate resources to law enforcement agencies in this state, the appropriations will have to increase instead of decrease. There will be no cost savings," Prater said.
Task force members said they have largely ruled out a cost-cutting measure that has been attempted unsuccessfully in the past — the wholesale consolidation of state law enforcement agencies.
Legislation that called for merging the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission with OBNDD was approved by the House in 2008 but died in the state Senate. Officials in both agencies expressed concern that consolidation might dilute their disparate regulatory and law enforcement roles.
"I don't know if that would be a proper synergy," Christian said.
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