Oklahoma redefined what they consider to be a crime and now offenders are having a “free-for-all” throughout the state.
With every act of decriminalization, or reduction in penalty severity, comes a form of consequences. So it’s not at all surprising to see that Oklahoma is seeing the kinds of effects that one could easily foresee, but the news somehow came as a shock to officials in the state.
So what’s going on? Essentially the state decided to decriminalize certain offenses. Now those offenses are shooting through the roof.
Oklahoma law enforcement agencies have observed a surge in crime that followed a 2017 law change that reclassified certain drug and theft offenses from felonies down to misdemeanors.
In 2016, Oklahoma voters passed State Question 780, which raised the threshold for felony theft or forgery from $500 to $1,000. Drug possession offenses that had previously been classified as felonies were then reclassified as misdemeanors.
After the law changes went into effect, law enforcement began seeing “a steady increase of thefts,” according to a recent Facebook post by the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office.
Per the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, there was a seven percent uptick in theft offenses within Oklahoma County in 2017 and 2018.
It’s almost like when something holds less severe consequences, more people might do it.
Since the beginning of 2019, the OCSO has recovered over $500,000 worth of stolen property.
OCSO spokesperson Mark Meyers commented about the spike in crime.
“What we’re finding is, it’s basically just a free-for-all right now through portions of Oklahoma County, and there’s a lot of folks getting their stuff stolen.”
He went on to mention how criminals are being nonchalant about breaking the updated laws.
“We’re also finding inmates or criminals we’re speaking with are bragging about it. They understand the law and even take calculators with them to make sure they are stealing less than $1,000.”
Various law enforcement departments and branches in the area have created what they call a Multi-Jurisdiction Anti-Crime Support Effort, or MASE for short.
Meyers dove into how the departments are collaborating.
“They are sharing resources, information, working with each other on similar cases, determining if they have similar suspects,” he said.
Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Mark Nelson was wary about this law being passed from the get-go.
“The first person to stand up and say ‘Here’s a solution,’ doesn’t make it the right solution. We weren’t asked at all – through any of this process,” he said back in 2016.
Earlier this month, criminal justice reforms in Oklahoma linked to the 2016 law resulted in the largest single-day mass commutation in the history of the United States. A total of 462 inmates were released from prisons across the state on November 4this year.
Apparently, this mass release of inmates was directly linked to the passing of that 2016 law, as people who were previously convicted under the laws while they were still felonies were essentially given a get out of jail free card.
However, it’s not as though the laws they broke initially were “harmless” acts to be made into criminal ones, these were real crimes then and are still now – the state just decided to redefine the law.
Leigh Silverhorn was one of the released inmates from the Kate Barnard Community Correctional Facility. She had only served 6 months of a 10 year for drug possession.
When asked about her very early release, she stated, “I’m excited. I’m ready. I’m ready to go.”
While most media outlets focused their efforts on showcasing the stories about people, mostly women, getting released early from prison for dangerous drug possessions, outlets seemed to have conveniently overlooked those who were also released for robbery, theft, and shoplifting.
Furthermore, reporters seemed to report the act as a release of non-violent offenders, but robbery can actually be a very violent offense.
Nonetheless, as long as none of the hundreds of released prisoners reoffend, the state will save nearly $12 million due to their early releases.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt commented on the release.
“This marks an important milestone of Oklahomans wanting to focus the state’s efforts on helping those with nonviolent offenses achieve better outcomes in life. The historic commutation of individuals in Oklahoma’s prisons is only possible because our state agencies, elected officials, and partnering organizations put aside politics and worked together to move the needle.”
A similar situation happened earlier this year in California.
In November of 2014, California passed Proposition 47, officially titled the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative.
Its original intent was to lower criminal penalties for various property and drug offenses, which would ease the state’s overcrowded prison system. But inherent in the lowering of penalties was the major unintended consequences that have harmed tens of thousands of law-abiding property owners, and it continues to inflict economic and psychological damage.
California had reached nearly 200 percent of design capacity in its prisons in 2011. To help ease that problem that same year, then California Gov. Jerry Brown approved Assembly Bills 109 and 117, which required new non-violent and non-serious criminals with no histories of sexual offenses to be sent to county jails rather than state prisons.
Now known as realignment, this effort was further supported by a state constitutional amendment, passed by the majority of voters in November 2012, which raised sales taxes and some income taxes to fund new realignment obligations for local governments.
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Also, in 2012, voters approved Proposition 36, which revised the state’s original 1994 “Three Strikes” law which carried a mandatory “25-years to life” sentence for anyone convicted of a third felony. From that point on, life sentences would be required after a third conviction only if that conviction involved a “serious or violent” crime or if the convict’s previous convictions involved murder, rape, or child molestation.
When you eliminate stiff penalties for criminal activity, you almost guarantee an increase in these types of crimes, as there is really no deterrent anymore. Even with these previous measures failing to have the intended results, California voters still approved another criminal justice “reform” proposition, the aforementioned Prop 47. It created a reduction of six non-violent felonies to misdemeanors.
According to The Independent, one of the most notable changes ushered in by Prop 47 was a sudden increase in the rate of motor vehicle break-in thefts. Informally known as “smash-and-grab” burglaries, these offenses became especially more likely in densely populated cities throughout the state.
Vehicle break-ins are by no means a new problem. In fact, break-ins in California were more common in past years. But following years of rapid decline, vehicle break-in rates surged after the passage of Prop 47.
The report continued:
“Although many areas of California have seen increases in vehicle break-ins since the passage of Prop 47, certain high-density cities have been hit hardest. In San Francisco, where the problem is worst, public officials have called smash-and-grab burglaries an ‘epidemic.’ Although the city has suffered a motor vehicle break-in problem for about a decade, the frequency of such crimes has skyrocketed in recent years.”
God help us.