Local law enforcement opposes State Questions 780 & 781 (KJRH)

By Darcy Jackson

CLAREMORE, Okla. — State questions that were meant to reduce prison population may soon have an affect on your community.

At least, that’s what some in local law enforcement fear as crime and punishment changes go into effect.

State Question 780 allows certain non-violent drug and theft crimes to become misdemeanors, easing growing problems in prisons.

SQ 781 would apply the savings toward rehab services for inmates in an effort to end drug-related crime.

But many on the front lines of crime in our communities expect just the opposite.

“It’s bad in every way. I don’t see the good side in it,” said Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton.

Come July 1, Sheriff Walton says State Question 780 and 781 could mean more brazen criminals in local neighborhoods.

“They can steal more, and use drugs freely and openly. If you’re caught with heroin on a school playground, you’re guilty of a misdemeanor,” said Walton.

He says the new laws, designed to incarcerate less people in state prisons, could fill up local jails, and release convicted criminals faster than ever before.

“I think it sends a message that these things aren’t as bad,” said Walton. “The good voters in the state of Oklahoma were sold by an advertisement.”

But for others, it’s a monumental change toward jail reform.

“We incarcerate more of our people than anybody but a couple of states. So we spend a lot of money incarcerating these people, and a lot of them aren’t dangerous,” said Ryan Gentzler with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

Gentzler says the two laws will create a win-win – less people in prison, and money spent on solving crime at the root.

“There’s no research that would indicate that these types of changes would lead to any increase in crime,” he said. “We can reduce costs and improve the community at the same time.”

Even as the call for repeal grows, Gentzler says Oklahoma will tackle addiction like never before.

“I think they’ll learn pretty quickly that the sky isn’t falling, that we’re actually making our communities stronger,” said Gentzler.

In the meantime, Sheriff Walton says he’ll continue to keep Rogers County safe…even with new challenges on the horizon.

“People will say, ‘What’s the matter with all of this and how did this get to be?’ and the answer’s going to be “well, did you vote yes on 780 and 781?” And by the time they realize that, it will be too late,” he said.

Opponents of 780 and 781 say they’d like to see them repealed sooner than later.

That would require the governor’s signature on an approved legislative bill calling for the repeal.

No bill has been filed yet. The laws will go into effect July 1.


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