Commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, Michael Thompson, talks about his life and career.
Michael Thompson serves as Commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. He oversees the Oklahoma Highway Patrol as well as roughly 1,700 employees that work in the agency’s offices statewide. Thompson also has a distinguished military career, having achieved the rank of Colonel and currently assigned as the Chief of Staff (Army) for the Oklahoma National Guard. He has served two tours in Iraq, including one at the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Thompson, however, is first and foremost a proud family man. He and his wife of 27 years, Deborah, have two sons – Brandon, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point currently serving in South Korea, and Jared, who holds the rank of second lieutenant and is attending flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala.
In 1984, I began working for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and soon worked my way up to correctional counselor. I was 21, very young. I started thinking that maybe there was more that I could do in this career field. For me, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol was top of the career ladder. Growing up in Purcell, Okla., I would see that Oklahoma Highway Patrol cruiser come through town, and I would think, “Man, that’s cool.” I knew I wanted to drive one of those cars, to be one of those troopers. It didn’t take me long to zero in on this.
It took me three times to apply before I was accepted to become part of the OHP academy, and in 1990 I was accepted to the 45th Patrol Academy. I was already accustomed to high-stress environments when I entered the Academy because of my military background. I watched guys stress out, but I told them, “Stick with it, keep your head and we’ll get through it.”
When I began my career in OHP, to reach (rank of) Captain was my goal. I didn’t have any expectations beyond that. In 2003, I was moved up to captain. I had no clue I was being considered for the post of Commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. In November 2010, I received a call to get my resume together. There were some good names being considered for commissioner, so it was an honor for me. On Dec. 7, 2010, Gov. Mary Fallin offered me the position.
The concerns for the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety are no different than any other state agency. We have taken budget cuts like everyone else has. But one of the things the Governor said in her State of the State address was that we’re not going to worry about things we can’t do; we’re going to worry about things we can do. Yes, we’ve experienced a budget cut, and yes, our ability is diminished, but the services we can offer, I want those to be courteous and professional. I want the OHP to operate with integrity and professionalism.
In March 2012, we will have our next patrol school, the first since 2009. There will be funding for 30 spots in the school. Our numbers have shrunk over the years. Twenty years ago, you’d have 1,000 people apply for one of 50 positions in the patrol academy, but now we’re lucky if we have 600 apply to patrol school. This will be my first round as Commissioner, so the most important thing I can do is hire the right guy. We want the right guys on the road. I feel quality is much more important than quantity.