All eyes are on the criminal justice system as Oklahoma’s prison system continues to struggle.
Legislation like 2017’s State Question 780, which lowered many property and drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, target the populations seen as the major reason for that strain.
A year after its passage, though, some aren’t confident that the move is making a dent in the system’s problems.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations, tasked with compiling data from 327 police departments and sheriff’s offices across the state, recently published their report of crime trends from 2017 records. The offenses the Uniform Crime Report tracks are the index crimes the Federal Bureau of Investigation have determined are indicative of the nation’s crime trends, and according to OSBI’s report they are: Murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.
The most recent iteration of the UCR shows an overall decline in most index crimes throughout Oklahoma, with the exception of murders. Overall, index crimes reportedly decreased 10.5 percent from 2008 to 2017. While the number of violent crimes increased 2.1 percent from 2016 to 2017, those numbers decreased 6.3 percent from 2018 to 2017. Murders reported in 2017 reached the highest for a 10-year stretch, increasing 16 percent since 2008.
Locally, many police departments and sheriff’s offices saw little change from their usual reporting. For the Davis Police Department, a jump in theft cases was notable in their 2017 numbers — for good reason. “We had a four-month string of break-ins at storage units in the area,” DPD Chief Dan Cooper said. Cooper said the string of thefts ranged all over, including cases in Ardmore, Sulphur, Purcell and other area towns, even into Texas. “The perpetrator was turned in to Lincoln County,” Cooper said. “People are still reporting new cases because they either don’t live near here or they haven’t gone over to check their storage units.”
While the perpetrator attempted to flee to the east coast, law enforcement eventually caught up to him.
Having worked in law enforcement for many years, beginning with the Murray County Sheriff’s Office in the 1980s, Cooper said he encourages officers serving under him to choose an area of interest and learn all they can about it.
Despite being a relatively small department, Davis has a narcotics officer with a K9 unit, an officer who handles sexual crimes and domestic assault cases, and another who takes cases dealing with computer crimes, debit card fraud and other white collar crimes. “We are a small department, but we have a pretty diverse expertise,” Cooper said.
“We also recently reinstated the school resource officer,” Cooper said. “We’re currently working with reserve officers until we can get funding in place for a permanent unit at the school.” Cooper said after a five year break from having an officer on campus, the community seems to be responding positively to increased positive interaction and campus patrols.
Ardmore Police Department Deputy Chief Kevin Norris said after a much lower crime rate in 2017, he “knew numbers wouldn’t stay low forever.”
Earlier in the year, APD attributed decreases across the range of index crimes to the wrap up of a case which convicted at least 12 members of organized crime and gang related activity.
APD’s reports show a 14 percent increase in index crimes in December 2017 and a 20 percent rise in violent crimes through May 2018. In May, those numbers began dropping and stayed around a 14 percent increase from last year. As of July, those numbers have further decreased to approximately 9 percent, Norris said.
“It appears we had a low crime summer, which is good for us all,” Norris said.
Along with violent and non-violent crimes, drug-related cases continue to be sent through Carter County District Court, with many overlapping those categories, though there are some changes in  the way those are handled since the passing of Oklahoma State Question 780 last year.
According to the OSBI Uniformed Crime reports, just over 90 percent of the arrests made in the state in 2017 were adults, with 86.8 percent of arrests for index crimes, either violent or non-violent in nature. Of those, 18.9 percent were for drug-related offenses and 24.7 percent were related to alcohol.  
District Attorney Craig Ladd said the major change he’s seen as a result of the changes brought by the passage of 780 isn’t a change in case numbers — there are fewer felonies because those cases are now on the misdemeanor docket — but fewer individuals taking advantage of rehabilitation options including inpatient rehab programs or Drug Court.
“We’re trying to implement things like the BEAR, Inc. program, but it’s difficult to get people to agree to rehabilitation options over a misdemeanor,” Ladd said. “That’s one of the big misconceptions about 780. A felony could be used as motivation or leverage to get people to seek rehab or complete drug court.”
Now, Ladd says he’s fearful for the outcomes individuals with addictions and mental health issues may face. “We have good intent and are trying to successfully rehabilitate people. We strive to use our discretion wisely.”
Current drug court rules would terminate those currently participating if they have new charges after enrollment, even with the reduction of many possession charges to misdemeanors. “The current rules would terminate for any new offense whether it’s traffic or a new drug-related offense,” said Drug Court Director Danny Powell.
This time last year, Drug Court in Carter County had over 100 participants. This year, numbers are much lower with only 77 participants, Powell said. “I think the solution is to redo 780,” Powell said.