Assessing Public Safety in Oklahoma
Maintaining public safety is government’s core responsibility. Government became necessary as soon as more than a few people lived in the same area and one broke the rules. Ancient city and state governments were created to protect their citizens from outside threats and from each other. In the United States, local governments began providing police and jails in the colonial era. Not long after, many added fire service. State public safety services grew as prison populations exceeded the capacity of town and county jails, as mobility increased, and as we desired more uniform systems of justice. Government remains the only institution with the mission of ensuring that all families, neighborhoods and communities are protected from threats to their physical safety.
Oklahoma has made substantial progress in public safety. We have successfully invested in drug courts and better control of methamphetamine ingredients to control some drug crimes. Crime remains below regional levels. However, Oklahoma crime rates are higher than the national average in spite of very high rates of imprisonment. Our prisons are overcrowded, understaffed, and in physical disrepair. Oklahomans are much more likely to die in traffic accidents or fires than the average American.
Here are some indicators that offer a snapshot of where public safety in Oklahoma stands today.
3rd — In 2014, Oklahoma ranked 3rd in prisoners per 100,000 population at 713. The national rate is 498. This means one out of every 140 Oklahomans is imprisoned. Oklahoma’s prison population grew 11.5 percent from 2009 to 2014, compared to a decrease of 3 percent nationwide. Oklahoma’s rate of imprisoning women, 146 per 100,000 population, was the highest in the nation and more than double the national rate of 71.
406 — violent crimes per 100,000 population in 2014, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Oklahoma’s rate is higher than the national rate of 375 but below the regional rate of 425. Three of the six surrounding states have lower violent crime rates than Oklahoma and three have a lower property crime rate.
6th — Oklahoma’s rank in fire deaths among the states and District of Columbia, according to the US Fire Administration. The 2013 death rate of 19.7 per million people was well above the national rate of 11.0.
1.41 — highway deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2013, according to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration. Oklahoma’s rate was higher than the national rate of 1.10. Speeding and alcohol accounted for 25 percent each of Oklahoma traffic deaths.