Saturday, January 18, 2020

State Sen. Bergstrom files bill to unify public safety agencies


Oklahoma Public Safety Unification Act of 2020 is filed

Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, has filed Senate Bill 1602, also known as the Oklahoma Public Safety Unification Act of 2020, which would create the Oklahoma Public Safety Agency.

The new agency would unite state law enforcement and public safety agencies to more efficiently and effectively enforce public safety laws and deter crime. The following entities would become divisions within the new Oklahoma Public Safety Agency:

  • Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP)
  • Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI)
  • Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (OBN)
  • Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training
  • State Fire Marshall
  • Homeland Security
  • Oklahoma Emergency Management
  • Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement (ABLE)

All functions currently performed by the OHP, OSBI, OBN, Office of the State Fire Marshall, Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security and Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management would remain under their respective divisions preserving the historic identity, specialization, and mission of each original agency. 

“The purpose of this legislation is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our state law enforcement and public safety agencies serving and protecting Oklahoma citizens,” Bergstrom said. “This unification will allow for better communication between the state and local law enforcement agencies and departments, as well as between these state entities and the general public.”

Under SB 1602, the director of the Oklahoma Public Safety Agency would be appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate. The director would have the power to affirm current directors or chiefs of the divisions within the agency, or appoint a new director or chief if the position is vacant.

Director duties would also include formulating and implementing a unified law enforcement and public safety strategy, administering budgetary activities for each division, preparing rules and regulations necessary for the agency to operate, and entering into contracts with public or private organizations for research and special projects, among other duties.

The bill would also create the Oklahoma Public Safety Agency Revolving Fund, consisting of state and federal funds for the agency to operate. All money in the account would be budgeted and appropriated by the Oklahoma Public Safety Agency.

Bergstrom said while this legislation is unifying our law enforcement entities under one agency, it is not expanding the state’s police powers.

“By unifying these agencies, we are making them more efficient and allowing them to better provide the services our citizens deserve and depend on,” Bergstrom said. “Developing unified training for our law enforcement officers will elevate their skills and professionalism.”

SB 1602 would also create the Investigation Oversight Commission, which would consist of seven members including the Oklahoma Attey General; Chief Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court; Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector; one member appointed by the governor; one member appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate; one member appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives; and one member appointed by the District Attorney’s Council.

The Investigation Oversight Commission would have the ability to investigate political and public corruption.

“Oklahoma’s state law enforcement is fragmented,” Bergstrom said. “The reason I first became interested in this unification project was because of a conversation I had with a police officer in my district about the issues he saw in our law enforcement agencies and the way they work together. This legislation is aimed at fixing this problem. As this plan moves forward, I intend to ensure our law enforcement stakeholders, sheriffs and police chiefs are at the table to make this the best bill possible for Oklahoma and our law enforcement agencies."

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