Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office deputies are not opposed to a proposed jail trust, but they are fearful of what it may mean for their jobs.
That’s the message sent by Sgt. Paul Harmon who spoke as a member of the Fraternal Order of Police Post No. 155 Thursday at Francis Tuttle Technology Center in northwest Oklahoma City.
“We believe if Oklahoma County law enforcement services are not fully funded in writing, and they elect to shift revenue funds from law enforcement to the jail, the sheriff’s law enforcement division will be cut,” Harmon said.
The proposed jail trust would have financial and operational oversight of the jail. Harmon said he understands the need for improvements at the Oklahoma County Jail, but he worries it might come at the cost of law enforcement jobs.
“We believe they will be cut,” Harmon said. “There have been statements that they will be cut.”
Emergency 911 service, school resource officers and the ability to adequately patrol unincorporated areas of the county could also be impacted if funds are siphoned from the patrol division.
Future funding in question
The sheriff’s office receives about $2.3 million annually from the county. It generates and an additional $7.5 million in funding from jail operations, including inmate phone calls, commissary services and boarding charges.
The OKC FOP’s fear members of the proposed trust will shift county appropriations toward the jail at the expense of the patrol division and other operations.
“They’re saying we’re going to give you what you’ve always had — which is $2 million — but the problem is yeah, we’ve had that $2 million, but we’ve had to make that other money up elsewhere,” Lt. Mike Cunningham said.
Fears abound for employees
About 20 deputies and civilian employees flanked Harmon at the press conference. After, they fanned out to knock on doors with the hope of educating citizens about the threat to the department.
“Everyone has to take time off to do this,” Cunningham said. “They have to use their own personal time. They’re committed. I’m not having to pull teeth to get people here.”
Harmon said he expects a final vote on the trust next month with its approval a virtual certainty.
“To say that we’re nervous about the future of the sheriffs office is an understatement,” he said.