Oklahoma Police Officers Voice Opposition To SQ 780, 781
OKLAHOMA CITY - The police union is joining the list of those opposed to state questions 780 and 781, two proposed criminal justice reforms that will appear on the November ballot.
Officers say there are too many loopholes for dangerous criminals, and that these state questions take away any deterrents to do wrong. They agree, though, that something has to change.
“Just because there’s a problem, the first person to stand up and say here’s a solution doesn’t make it the right solution,” said Union Vice President Mark Nelson.
Members of the Oklahoma City FOP say they wish they had been consulted during the writing of state questions 780 and 781, which would reduce minor drug offenses and property crimes less than $1,000 to misdemeanors instead of felonies and fund community programs for mental illness and drug addiction.
One of the union's biggest concerns is that more criminals could carry stolen guns, putting officers and citizens in danger.
“Any type of stolen property, if you’re in possession of it, is a felony. This changes that to have to be $1,000 and there is literally no exceptions for a stolen gun. There’s not too many guns that we find that are worth more than $1,000,” said Nelson.
Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform say intimidation and violence with weapons, along with drug distribution and manufacturing, would remain felonies.
OCJR chairman and former House Speaker Kris Steele said, “Simply stealing, it’s usually almost always connected with an addiction or a mental illness, and we’ve got to address the root cause behind the behavior in order to see a reduction in crime.”
The plan is to alleviate overcrowding in prisons.
“They’re filled with low-level offenders who battle addiction and/or mental illness,” said Steele, “and if we can address addiction and mental illness through treatment, appropriate mental health care and supervision, we can then free up space for individuals who truly pose a danger.”
Funding for those proposed alternatives, however, would not take effect until July 2018. Nelson believes that will mean more people end up in jail rather than prison.
“The savings that are proposed to be given back to the counties, that’s going to take years to see, so what do you do in the four, five and six years as these savings are accumulating?” he asked. “These people still have to be helped.”
The officers say there has to be a better way.
“Don’t have anything specific right now of what we would propose if somebody were asking us,” said Nelson, “but we weren’t asked at all through any of this process.”
Whether or not the initiatives pass, the police union wants to work with legislators to make sure the laws are working properly.
Nelson said, “The fixes, I would argue, are already there, but they’re not being funded.”
If voters say yes to the two questions, they can be amended in the future if a better solution presents itself.
“Change is hard,” said Steele. “Change is hard for anybody. Even when you know change needs to occur, it’s still difficult to accept sometimes.”