Plans are underway to downsize Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s aviation division.
A representative from the governor’s office says the staff could be moved to street patrol, and numerous aircraft used to find criminals and fight fires could be sold.
Donelle Harder, a spokesperson for Governor Kevin Stitt, says they are unsure at this point to what extent the downsizing will affect the department.
“No one will lose their jobs over this at this time. Everything is intended to help shift people to more of the road part of the office,” Harder said.
Harder says this decision comes after an audit of the Department of Public Safety, and discussions between DPS leadership and the governor.
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According to the governor’s office, downsizing the aviation department would help shift resources to the understaffed road patrol.
“There will be a helicopter for DPS. There will be the services they need in the aviation department to meet emergencies and to help support county sheriff offices,” Harder said.
However, the Hughes County Sheriff disagrees.
Sheriff Marcia Maxwell sent a letter to Gov. Stitt, asking him to rethink the decision.
“For me, Troop O is an essential resource that can be available on very short notice to an agency who, on their own, could not afford and aircraft,” Maxwell said in her letter.
Troop O was used in 2016 to find dangerous fugitive Michael Vance.
Oklahoma Forestry Services confirms they rely on Troop O aircrafts to fight wildfires.
Harder says these needs have been taken into consideration when making the decision to downsize, and public safety won't be affected.
“We're just shifting resources to ensure that public safety is the number one priority,” Harden said.
According to the DPS website, Troop O currently has nine fixed wing aircrafts and two helicopters, and is, “the only state agency maintaining an operating fleet of aircraft.”
Harder says they don't have a deadline yet for when specific decisions will be made on what to cut.