Should Oklahoma County taxpayers trust a "trust"?

The Oklahoma County Jail (FILE/KOKH)

Following years of scandals - is the county jail now on the right track or does it need more oversight? And if the answer is more oversight, what would that oversight look like and could it threaten public safety in rural Oklahoma County?

The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office provides all public safety needs in unincorporated parts of Oklahoma County. They can also step in and assist smaller police departments when requested.

The investigative function of the Sheriff’s Office has been highlighted recently after county investigators were called on to help solve a portion of six-years’ worth of unsolved criminal cases in Spencer. Sources tell FOX 25 the Spencer Police Department requested the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s assistance with the overwhelming number of unsolved crimes. The OSBI brought in the sheriff’s office to assist as well. County investigators were able to solve a number of cases within the first week.

“You can't have a county this size without the sheriff's office investigators,” said Lieutenant Larry Grant, the President of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 155, which represents the Sheriff’s office employees.

Grant says employees at the Sheriff’s office are concerned their ability to step in and investigate crimes in rural Oklahoma County could be taken away if the county implements a jail trust.

Grant says while the sheriff’s office has suffered a very public black-eye in recent years due to prior management issues, the new Sheriff has made important changes and improvements.

“It's totally different than it was in the past,” Grant told FOX 25, “I think that is what upsets some of us in the FOP is that give us a chance to work.”

Many inside the sheriff's office see the proposed jail trust being debated by county leaders as punishment for past sins. They worry the trust would erode the ability of the Sheriff's Office to carry out the law enforcement functions of the county.

“To us,” Grant said, “Stay out of law enforcement; do your job and leave law enforcement to the professionals that are in law enforcement.”

“The jail trust, as it is being looked at in Oklahoma County, would have nothing to do with the law enforcement side of the sheriff's duty,” said District Three First Deputy Randy Grau.

Grau is heading up the jail trust committee, which at this point is just discussing if a trust could work and how it could be implemented.

“It's been done in several other counties and what it provides is an extra layer of oversight, of accountability, of transparency,” Grau told FOX 25.

Grau says Oklahoma County is attempting to learn from the mistakes other counties have made with jail trusts.

“What we're trying to look at is how can we have a structure in place so we never have to worry about how money is spent towards jail operations,” Grau said.

At its most basic function, the trust would safeguard the funds the county sets aside each year to operate the jail. In the past those funds have been raided for other purposes.

However, Grau said any jail trust is likely years away from being put in place.

Some county leaders have said the extra accountability of a trust could also be a positive message that could win over taxpayer support when the time comes to raise money for a new jail facility.

The FOP says it would like to see more guarantees that law enforcement operations won't be affected and would like to see the county put any plans for a trust to a vote of the people.

County leaders say they've welcomed the sheriff into the discussion and hope to continue planning what a trust would look like with everyone who would be affected by a trust.

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