Two Oklahoma County commissioners, Kevin Calvey and Brian Maughan, question whether the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Deputies are adequately deployed for law enforcement in the unincorporated areas of the expansive county.
The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) counters that they are prioritizing those areas even though their law enforcement staff are greatly reduced because of budget constraints.
The OCSO gets its budget funding from the county which is managed by three county commissioners.
In separate interviews with Free Press this week, both commissioners complained that the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office was still too focused on trying to cover the entire county instead of the unincorporated areas that have no other law enforcement presence but the OCSO.
Oklahoma City and other municipalities have their own police forces that can take primary responsibility for law enforcement the commissioners argue.
Those who live in the unincorporated parts of Oklahoma County have no other law enforcement to turn to except the OCSO and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
Calvey and Maughan talked about their concerns for what they consider to be too much duplication of law enforcement by OCSO.
“The sheriff’s office has been wasting taxpayer dollars for a long time,” Calvey told Free Press. “They patrol everywhere in the county, rather than just the rural areas where they belong.”
Calvey said the OCSO is “duplicating the effort” of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the municipal police departments.
“That’s part of the problem where the jail got into the fix it was in because they were using money intended for the jail or on other things,” said Calvey.
His criticism goes back to the previous sheriff, John Whetsel, who was the Oklahoma County Sheriff for 20 years ending March 1, 2017.
Whetsel drastically expanded parts of the law enforcement part of the OCSO. Some believe he did so at the expense of maintaining and running the Oklahoma County Detention Center, or jail.
Under Whetsel, the OCSO ran deficits on several occasions and did not pay a $3.3 million dollar contract bill with the medical providers which resulted in the taxpayers of the county being given a special assessment to pay it.
The Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s office did an audit on Whetsel’s operation and concluded in 2016 that “All funds were not expended in a lawful manner.”
In a separate interview with Free Press, Maughan voiced a similar objection about deputies making traffic stops in deep Oklahoma City when they are needed in the unincorporated areas.
“The sheriff has a pickup truck, which can’t be fuel-efficient,” said Maughan. “I don’t know why we have a pickup truck.”
“But, a pickup truck was doing a traffic stop on SW 29th [Street] and May [Avenue] the other day and they were obstructing traffic in the way they had pulled over. They blocked traffic,” Maughan said.
The commissioner went on to say that the Sheriff has said he has reduced spending but he wonders why there is still time money being expended on law enforcement work in the incorporated areas of the county.
Free Press reached out to Commissioner Carrie Blumert but she was not available for comment by deadline.
Sheriff’s office response
Mark Meyers with the OCSO told Free Press that they have cut many of the law enforcement expenditures that represented overlap or duplication of services already provided by municipalities.
Specifically, since Sheriff P.D. Taylor’s election in 2017, they have cut their patrol division by “50 percent” from around 40 patrol positions to the current 20 which are assigned to the unincorporated areas of the county.
He said that “the Sheriff has jurisdiction in all four corners” of the county and so can enforce any laws within the county at any time.
But, Myers said they do know that those in the unincorporated areas and the small municipality police agencies need them the most. So, their patrol deputies are deployed to those areas.
“If our deputies are on their way out to those areas from the jail or the headquarters and they see someone breaking the law, they are going to make the stop,” said Myers. “They aren’t going to ignore it.”
Myers said that it may appear deputies are making routine patrol stops within Oklahoma City when they may be participating in the several task forces they are a part of with other law enforcement agencies.
Those task forces are mostly funded by grants from the federal government.
Also, he said Sheriff’s deputies serve warrants that may involve traffic stops which also could give the impression of routine traffic stops.
Myers said that Taylor has done much to cut expenses in the OCSO so that priority law enforcement in the unincorporated areas can still be achieved with a force cut in half.
For example, Taylor has completely cut the motorcycle patrol, the dive team, and the dignitary protection detail. Each of those duplicated services already provided by other agencies.
Roughly 140 square miles make up the biggest unincorporated swaths of the county along its northern and eastern portions.
A map of the county is below.
In the far northwest corner of the county, the Deer Creek area is essentially a 35 square-mile bedroom community whose development has been fueled by the popularity of Deer Creek Public Schools. But, it’s not an actual municipality.
No doubt, many people who live in a narrow band between the northern edge of Edmond city limits and the area east of Edmond believe they live in Edmond’s city limits when they don’t.
The northeastern corner of the county that wraps across the north of Luther city limits is also unincorporated.
Then, a large wooded expanse of around 60 square miles along the eastern side of Oklahoma County is unincorporated. The area extends from the south city limits of Luther, wraps around Harrah and continues south to within a few miles of Cleveland county.
In these more open parts of the county, more and more people are buying land for acreages and small home sites which increases the number of people in the county for whom their local government is Oklahoma County and not a municipality.
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UPDATE, 9:22 a.m., 1-11-20: We added one line showing the relationship between the Sheriff’s office budget and Oklahoma County Commissioners.
Last Updated January 11, 2020, 9:23 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor