OKLAHOMA CITY – A proposed jail trust has deputies and other employees at the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office worried about job cuts. On Thursday, they took their concerns to the people they’re meant to protect.
“To say that we are nervous about the future of the sheriff’s office will forever be changed is an understatement,” said Sgt. Paul Harmon, an investigator with the sheriff’s office and a member of the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office Fraternal Order of Police 155, in a press conference Thursday.
The fear comes as the propose jail trust gets closer to becoming a reality. The idea behind the trust is to transparently dole out funding to maintain and staff the jail. Instead of going through only the sheriff, those decisions would be made with the sheriff, a commissioner, and several citizens.
“We will expect a trust will determine exactly what the sheriff’s office has been saying for years,” Sgt. Harmon said, “that money is needed to properly fund our jail.”
But Sgt. Harmon questions where that money will come from, and fears he already knows the answer. Currently, the law enforcement side is given about $2-3 million to run, and it gets the other needed $7 million off other special revenue and service fees, like phone calls out of the jail, or the commissary. Deputies believe that once the jail trust discovers for themselves there is not enough money to run the jail, they’ll divert that funding away from law enforcement and back into the jail.
“We have heard from county commissioners,’ Sgt. Harmon said. “They believe law enforcement services provided to the sheriff’s office should be cut or restructured to provide funding or support to the jail.”
If that funding is lost, deputies insist it could mean cuts to divisions like the school resource officers, 911 dispatch, patrol, interdiction, and criminal investigations.
“Who will answer the call, the 911 call? Who will answer your emergencies and how long will it take for them to get there?” said Sgt. Harmon.
Deputies and other sheriff’s office employees are calling for a written commitment from the commissioners guaranteeing law enforcement would be fully funded.
“Take into consideration not only us and our families,” Sgt. Harmon said, “but they’re going to take into consideration the families that we serve and protect.”
After the press conference, deputies on their free time took to unincorporated neighborhoods going door to door to drum up support, encouraging residents to call their elected officials and share their opinions.
“It really makes me angry to insinuate that if some citizen were to call 911 no one would answer,” said Brian Maughan, County Commissioner for District Two. “That’s just intellectually dishonest and they know better.
Vaughan pointed out that it’s the first constitutional priority of the county to maintain the jail, and it is the constitutional charge of the sheriff to maintain security and patrol in unincorporated areas, issues he would have to balance in his budget.
“The public wants to know exactly how much we need, and why do we need that much, and where is it going to be spent,” Maughan said, “and once that’s disclosed, I think if it obviously mandates it needs it then they’ll get it.”
He said he won’t be signing the commitment but also doesn’t want to get rid of employees along with their institutional knowledge.
“I can’t imagine anybody who came in and started taking over the trust would want to either,” Maughan said, “so I think this is a bunch of anxiety over nothing.”