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Crime-and-courts
Decline in OHP tickets continues well after driving restrictions on trooper lifted

Two years after the Oklahoma Highway Patrol lifted a 100-mile-per-shift driving limit on troopers in a cost-saving move, the number of tickets written has yet to recover, according to a Tulsa World analysis of state ticket data.

Despite the agency canceling the driving cap in June 2017, troopers wrote 25% fewer tickets in 2018 compared to 2016, records show. Troopers wrote 220,773 tickets in 2016 compared to 165,838 in 2018.

Department of Public Safety officials imposed the six-month cap on driving as a cost-saving measure in December 2016.

The total number of written warnings has also tumbled since the driving limit was imposed. About 360,000 warnings were written by troopers in 2018, a nearly 10% decline from 2016 when 403,000 warnings were issued, the data show.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol declined an interview by the Tulsa World on the subject, opting to release on a statement that said there could be many reasons for the ticket and warning slowdown.

“Statistical data regarding the issuance of traffic tickets in any one geographic area in the state versus another is dependent on numerous factors,” Col. Michael S. Harrell, chief of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, said in the statement. “Weather, construction, discretion, and traffic density, among many others, create variance that cannot be briefly summarized. The location of a trooper who is assigned to traffic enforcement action may yield vastly different results from another.

“The 100-mile limitation that was imposed in December 2016 lasted only six months, and may have affected the number of tickets issued within that time frame. However, it would not account for any variances moving forward.”

Oklahoma State Troopers Association attorney Gary James did not return multiple calls for comment.

The World analyzed four years of Highway Patrol ticket data accounting for over 700,000 tickets and 1.5 million warnings. The analysis also found fewer troopers were writing tickets now compared to past years, possibly contributing to the decline.

Among troopers who had written at least 60 tickets in a year, the numbers were more telling.

In 2016, 531 troopers issued at least 60 tickets, while in 2017 and 2018, the number of troopers fell to 492 and 478, respectively.

The number of troopers issuing at least 60 warnings a year had also declined from 586 in 2016 to 572 in 2018.

The overall decline in tickets and written warnings coincides with a reduction in the number of troopers on staff.

In December 2016, when the driving limit was announced, the agency employed 805 troopers, according to news reports at the time.

Seven months later, 790 troopers were employed when the driving cap was lifted, accounts from the time indicate.

By mid-March, 778 troopers were employed with the agency, according to Sarah Stewart, agency spokesperson.

Turnpikes

While OHP ticket and warning totals have declined statewide, that is not the case for one highway in the state.

The number of tickets and written warnings issued increased 24% from 2016 to 2018 among troopers who patrol the Will Rogers Turnpike, the portion of Interstate 44 which runs from just east of Tulsa to the Missouri state line.

The number of citations written by troopers assigned to patrol the Will Rogers Turnpike, increased from 4,504 in 2016 to 5,595 in 2018.

The number of written warnings issued along the same highway increased by 17%, or from 12,119 in 2016 to 14,216 in 2018, records show.

No other turnpike has seen an increase in tickets from 2016 to 2018.

Two turnpikes, though, saw an increase in the number of warnings issued during the same time period: the Cherokee Turnpike and Indian Nation Turnpike.

The annual number of written warnings issued by troopers assigned to the Indian Nations Turnpike increased 9% from 2016 to 2018.

Meanwhile, troopers issued 26% fewer citations and 24% fewer written warnings along the Turner Turnpike, which links Tulsa and Oklahoma City, between 2016 and 2018, records show.

Overall, troopers assigned to turnpikes issued nearly 17% fewer tickets in 2018, compared to 2016, while warnings declined by about 4%.

The agency in charge of running the state turnpike system pays for troopers to patrol its highways, but otherwise stays out of the Highway Patrol’s enforcement policies, a spokesman said.

“The troopers that are on the turnpike system, we pay for their salaries, their equipment, their cars ... but as far as how they patrol, we don’t get involved in that,” said Jack Damrill, spokesman for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

The OTA has budgeted $17.1 million this year to pay for trooper patrols on its tollways.

The agency also agreed in recent years to pay for trooper academies with the understanding that some of the graduates would be assigned to the turnpikes, Damrill said.

The OTA spent around $4 million on about 26 academy graduates in 2016, Damrill said. It agreed to spend up to $5 million in 2018 for another academy class with the understanding that only a handful of graduates would be assigned to the turnpikes, Damrill said.

Eighteen troopers are currently assigned to patrol the Turner Turnpike, while 20 troopers are assigned to the Will Rogers Turnpike, Damrill said.

In all, the OTA currently pays for about 120 troopers to patrol its turnpikes, Damrill said. In past years, the total number of troopers patrolling the turnpike system has been as low as 90, he said.

About 130 to 140 troopers would be needed to “fully staff” the turnpikes, Damrill said.

The OTA has historically paid DPS for troopers to patrol the turnpikes, Damrill said.

“I think they would tell you without us helping them out they would not be able to afford” to assign troopers to the turnpikes, Damrill said.

The decline in tickets has resulted in a reduction in court fees and fines collected from tickets.

For example, collections of one court fee, which helps fund the purchase of new Highway Patrol vehicles, declined by 15% in 2018, records show.

Historically, the patrol vehicle fee generated about $4 million per year. That changed in 2018, when the fund collected $3.4 million from speeding tickets.

Sharon Hsieh, deputy general counsel for the state Administrative Office of the Courts, said the agency didn’t routinely generate reports which reflected how much revenue the court system derived from OHP tickets.

The agency didn’t have the resources to “create statistical reports or data compilations upon request,” she said.


Featured video

An old landfill site breached by floodwaters along Bird Creek at Oxley Nature Center got a closer look by federal, state and city officials. They need to come up with a plan — one that might address more than just one breach site. One thing was clear, however. It won’t be a simple matter.

Read the story: Oxley Nature Center covered in trash after old city dump exposed during flooding


Crime-and-courts
Oklahoma speeding tickets: Record high is 188 mph among 240,000 trooper citations, about 1 every 10 minutes

At one point in the chase, the trooper’s radar readout indicated the 2006 Chrysler 300 was traveling at 188 mph as it pulled away from its pursuers.

The Chrysler, at another point during the pursuit on U.S. 169, passed 10 to 12 cars, causing several oncoming vehicles to take evasive action to avoid colliding, records indicate.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper described the Chrysler at another time during the pursuit in court documents as traveling through a 45 mph construction zone at speeds up to 166 mph on southbound U.S. 169 in Nowata County on June 18, 2017, a Sunday afternoon.

In the end, the trooper broke off the chase, citing “equipment and public safety purposes.” However, another law enforcement officer involved in the pursuit had recognized the driver, so a warrant was issued for the driver’s arrest.

The case was one of over 5,000 times that OHP troopers cited someone driving 100 mph or faster since 2015, according to a Tulsa World analysis of ticket data.

Ryan Cannonie, who was working as an assistant district attorney in Nowata County at the time, said he was skeptical when he first saw records indicating the vehicle was traveling at 188 mph.

“I didn’t actually believe it at first; I thought it was an error,” said Cannonie, who is now an ADA in Cherokee County.

It wasn’t until he talked with the trooper that was he able to confirm the speed was correct as written.

But, rather than facing just a speeding ticket, state prosecutors opted instead for a criminal felony charge of endangering others while eluding a police officer, records show.

Cannonie said he usually asks for jail time in these types of cases where a conviction occurs.

The driver, Cody Roy Tatum, 30, of Delaware, Oklahoma, was arrested days later on the warrant. He was sentenced to a five-year prison term with all but six months suspended after pleading no contest to charges, records show.

“This one ended with someone with a felony conviction serving time in Nowata County jail and ... one of the better outcomes that can happen because it could end in death for the person who is running,” Cannonie said. “It can end in death for someone who is pursuing, trying to do their job, or from just some normal, average, everyday person just going about their daily life.”

The case is among a computer data file of every ticket issued by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol between Jan. 1, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2018. State Department of Public Safety officials provided the data file to the Tulsa World following a request under the state Open Records Act.

Over the past four years, OHP troopers issued about 240,000 speeding tickets to state motorists, the analysis reveals.

That works out to about one speeding citation issued every 10 minutes for the past four years.

Of that total number of speeding tickets, troopers have issued 5,364 tickets to motorists driving at least 100 mph on Oklahoma streets and highways between 2015 and 2018, according to the analysis of OHP ticket data.

Speeding 26 mph to 30 mph over the limit will net a fine of $135 with an additional $206 in court-related costs.

Since 2015, troopers issued 301 tickets in Grady County where someone was cited for driving at least 100 mph, the most of any county in the state.

Grady County is located southwest of Oklahoma City and bisected by Interstate 44.

Pawnee County, just west of Tulsa, ranked No. 2 in 100 mph-plus citations with 246 drivers issued tickets.

A Highway Patrol troop assigned to the Cimarron Turnpike issued about 8 in 10 of the 100 mph tickets in Pawnee County, located just west of Tulsa.

The fastest speed resulting in a citation in Pawnee County was 131 mph in 2016, records show.

Lincoln County logged the third most speeding tickets where the accused was clocked at 100 mph or greater, with 225 citations issued.

With the Turner Turnpike bisecting Lincoln County, troopers assigned to the tollway cited 214 motorists for driving in excess of 100 mph during the four-year period. The fastest speed recorded in Lincoln County on a ticket in that time was in 2016 when the motorist was pegged at 122 mph.

The second fastest speed cited by troopers since 2015 was 158 mph, recorded by motorists in Canadian and Custer counties.

Elsewhere, a motorist in Love County was cited in 2017 for driving 155 mph in a 70 mph zone, making that feat the fourth fastest speed to be cited by OHP in the state for the past four years.

No information about the location of the ticket was readily available, but Interstate 35 passes through Love County, which borders Texas. Troopers have written 101 citations in Love County to motorists traveling at least 100 mph.

Cotton County, located south of Lawton, includes portions of I-44 where troopers issued 182 speeding tickets to motorists for driving at least 100 mph. Cotton County ranks No. 10 in overall number of 100+ mph tickets since 2015.

A driver in Pottawatomie County received a ticket in 2016 for driving 145 mph on U.S. 177.

Other instances of drivers being ticketed for extreme speed included the following counties:

Stephens County, 152 mph in a 70 mph zone

Wagoner County, 151 mph in a 75 mph zone

Tulsa County, 150 mph in a 65 mph zone

Payne County, 146 mph in a 75 mph zone

The oldest 100+ mph cited driver was about 83 years old when he was cited for driving 105 mph in a 65 mph zone in Jefferson County, located west of Ardmore.


Featured video

An old landfill site breached by floodwaters along Bird Creek at Oxley Nature Center got a closer look by federal, state and city officials. They need to come up with a plan — one that might address more than just one breach site. One thing was clear, however. It won’t be a simple matter.

Read the story: Oxley Nature Center covered in trash after old city dump exposed during flooding


News
'We have to realize we're one city': Discussion on Equality Indicators offers chance at dialogue

To see people, organizations and the community come together to talk about Tulsa’s Equality Indicators report is more than vindication for Tiffany Crutcher. Saturday’s meeting at the Rudisill Regional Library was the fulfillment of one of the last things her brother, Terence, told her.

“It means so much to me today to know that Terence’s prophecy is coming to pass,” Crutcher said. “Because one of his last statements to me was, ‘God’s going to get the glory out of my life,’ and I believe today is the manifestation of that statement.”

Tulsa City Councilors held a discussion Saturday at the north Tulsa library on the Equality Indicators report, designed to provide an outlet for more community members to attend and give their input than a traditional Wednesday evening event.

Speakers talked of encounters with police, some in graphic detail and with emotion in their voices, and others spoke of ideas toward improving relations between Tulsa police and the community. Crutcher said it was a step in the right direction for the city and the community.

“I’m just elated that the community came out to share because what that tells us is that this is not just about data, this is about the lives that are being affected by racially biased policing,” Crutcher said. “So it’s so important that the powers that be in this city, including the mayor and the chief of police, I don’t think he’s here but he should be here listening, because these numbers don’t lie and there are stories behind these numbers.”

District 7 Councilor Lori Decter Wright said she and other councilors wanted to go to the public, rather than have the public come to them in the course of a regular meeting.

Wright said the strategy was effective in encouraging community members to be vulnerable and tell those stories harder to tell.

“We needed to be in a more comfortable space where people felt like they could get to it and they could be in dialogue with us rather than more presentational, which we do experience in our chamber,” Wright said. “Through a feedback process with some of the community organizers that are here today, some of the councilors got together and said, ‘Let’s just go ahead and book a room at the library.’ ”

One of the speakers, Obum Ukabam, moved to Tulsa from Ferguson, Missouri, several months ago. He warned the council that the issues discussed Saturday have to be approached as one city, not as two factions divided in how to address the community’s problems.

Without the unified approach, Ukabam said, Tulsa will see the same problems begin to fester that led to protests and riots in Ferguson.

“No matter what we’re dealing with now, if we do not solve it and find a way to come together to address it, it will explode the way it did in Ferguson in 2014,” Ukabam said. “It will explode in a way that is damaging to the city, damaging to the people and damaging to the reputation of the city.

“You have to make sure that we realize we’re not on two different sides. We have to realize we’re one city.”

Among other attendees was retired Tulsa police Sgt. Dave Walker, who most recently led the department’s homicide unit. Walker, who has attended other community meetings but only spoke at them recently, said he chose to speak Saturday after comments critical of police officers’ “warrior mentality” on the force.

Walker said he wanted to provide context that officers have to have the mentality when called upon to do the job they signed up for, specifically referencing the scenario of an officer rushing into a burning home to rescue a family before firefighters arrive or going into a home to rescue a child in a hostage situation. He said he wanted to provide the community a law enforcement perspective.

Despite those situations, Walker said he knows law enforcement isn’t perfect, it’s changing in many ways and that officers have to have more than only a warrior mentality. He said since his retirement, he has had time to learn and better understand why there is such a divide between the community and police.

“We are in that position because we know what it’s like to go through the door, we know that feeling,” Walker said. “And now we can educate ourselves on why the community feels the way they feel, why do they feel disenfranchised. That was some of the things I felt when I worked some of these shootings where the community would be angry just because we’re there.

“We’re so busy in law enforcement you don’t get a chance to sit back and educate law enforcement, me personally, on why. Now that I’ve retired, I’ve done that and I can get where the community’s a little bit pissed. But we have to work toward the goal, and that is law enforcement coming into the community and the community coming into law enforcement.”