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Oklahoma Highway Patrol hopes recent changes will increase their numbers

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LAWTON, Okla._A bill signed into law last Tuesday changed the requirements for joining the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

The new requirement dropped the minimum age from 23 to 21 and only requires an Associates degree, instead of a Bachelor's. It was designed to help the OHP attract more recruits and increase their overall troop levels.

The OHP has a lot of competition in the state when it comes to finding recruits. Other police departments pay more, in fact 28 of them do, and the requirements to join those other law enforcement organizations are less restrictive. OHP thinks the move will make them more marketable to the young men and women of Oklahoma.

"The Oklahoma Highway Patrol is the best law enforcement agency in Oklahoma," said Captain Westbrook, Troop G Commander.

But they are having problems attracting new recruits.

"We are not attracting the students or the candidates coming out of college and the local police departments pay more than we do and are catching these guys when they graduate and they are recruiting them as soon as they get out of college," said Captain Westbrook.

There are nearly 800 state troopers but they are having a tough time covering the state. They are stretched thin, with some troopers having to cover two counties by themselves.

"Basically we are reacting to calls instead of trying to be proactive and try to prevent crashes. We are having to be called to crashes so we are not really getting out and working in the traffic like we should be," explained Captain Westbrook.

Attracting future troopers can be tough but OHP hopes to educate the public about the benefits of working in public safety.

"It's an exciting life. Everyday is a different day. We go out and we never know what the next call is going to be," said Captain Westbrook. "We get to work outside, and we get to drive a company vehicle and visit with people on the side of the road."

But Captain Westbrook says the number priority is always public safety and hopes more join the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

OHP recruits go through an extensive and difficult 16 week academy. If they pass, they get the honor of wearing the OHP uniform, including that big brown hat no one likes to see in their rear view mirror.

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