State looks to trim Highway Patrol

State looks to trim Highway Patrol
Task force will probe 
all departments of the patrol and submit findings to governor.

By Tom Beyerlein, Staff Writer 8:20 PM Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Ohio Highway Patrol usually carries out investigations. Now it’s the subject of one.

A 16-member task force including legislators, lawmen and a truckers’ representative is putting state troopers on the hot seat as it looks for ways to improve the patrol’s efficiency, cut duplication of services and consolidate some operations.

“We want to know what the patrol’s doing, where the money’s going and if there are changes that need to be made,” said task force Chairman Peter Tobin, who is director of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation in London. “I look at (the patrol) as a premiere organization, but the (two-year) budget is nearly two-thirds of a billion dollars and we’re in tough economic times.”

The task force, which began meeting this month, was established as part of the state transportation budget bill. It is to probe all the departments of the patrol and submit recommendations to Gov. Ted Strickland and the Ohio Legislature before disbanding July 1.

The patrol has a combined budget of $636 million for fiscal 2010 and 2011, spokesman Lt. Shawn Davis said. It has 1,520 sworn troopers, 999 support employees such as dispatchers, load-limit inspectors and secretaries, he said. There are 55 patrol posts across the state.

Tobin said the task force has no target for cuts, and may recommend increasing funding in some areas. Overall, though, “the tone (from the legislature) is, ‘Take a hard look and if the organization’s too big and operating outside its statutory authority, we want to know about it.’

“Everything’s on the table at this point,” Tobin said. But “we will place a high value on the safety of the troopers, as far as manpower levels (go). This is about the safety of our citizens, first and foremost.”

A call to interim patrol Superintendent Kevin Teaford seeking comment was referred to the Ohio Department of Public Safety, which referred the call to Tobin.

The patrol has had budget worries since legislators in 2004 approved a four-year phaseout of using gas tax revenues to fund the agency.

The task force will be briefed by leaders of each patrol unit, including such departments as intelligence, tactical operations, technology and training. Tobin acknowledged it’s a difficult process.

“It’s not going to be comfortable for anybody,” he said. “We will treat every member of the patrol with the utmost respect and cordiality. We’re going to be fair and objective.”

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