Tulsa County Jail (copy)

Passed by voters in 2016, State Question 780 downgraded several nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and reduced the associated sentences. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Policy Institute analyst Damion Shade says recent criminal justice reforms are working despite claims to the contrary.

He points to the number of felony property-crime charges that have dropped by 29% from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2018 after examining figures compiled by the Bureau of Justice.

Additionally, said Shade, there were 3,443 fewer reports of larceny in Oklahoma in calendar year 2017 compared with calendar year 2016.

Passed by voters in 2016, State Question 780 downgraded several nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and reduced the associated sentences. Lawmakers made it retroactive last session.

The Legislature also raised the felony threshold from $500 to $1,000, he said.

Criminal justice reform is expected to be a major agenda item when lawmakers return in February to the Capitol.

“Reports from businesses and law enforcement officials blaming these reforms for the recent uptick in petty theft are not based in fact and are intended to undercut the criminal justice reform process,” said Shade, a criminal justice policy analyst for the non-partisan independent group. “The data shows no correlation between crime rates and felony theft levels.”

Kris Steele, the executive director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform and a former Oklahoma House Speaker, said attitudes are shifting toward a less stringent criminal justice system.

“Voters chose these reforms,” Steele said. “They’re moving us toward a fairer criminal justice system and away from the punitive policies that made Oklahoma the world’s No. 1 incarcerator.”

Last month, QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh told the Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council that property crimes had increased by more than 300% at Oklahoma convenience stores and inventory losses were four times higher than anywhere else the company operated.

The Tulsa-based company operates 811 stores in 11 states.

Thornbrugh, though, declined to comment on the Oklahoma Policy Institute figures.

Norm Smaligo is president of the Oklahoma Retail Crime Association, an industry group of more than 300 members.

“Our friends at Oklahoma Policy Institute and Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform have no actual first-hand knowledge of the subject, yet don’t let that stop them from pushing an agenda that is hurting our retailers and our communities though increased crime and lower tax collections due to increased thefts,” Smaligo said. “Sadly our legislators have chosen to listen to them about these issues instead of the retailers who are stuck paying for their reforms.”

Smaligo said his organization earlier this year surveyed 13 of the largest retailers that represent almost 300 locations.

“Their internal theft numbers show massive double-digit increases in the number of thefts from retailers, the average amount and the total stolen,” he said.

Gov. Kevin Stitt, who recently rolled out a new criminal justice reform package and created a criminal justice reform task force, has supported reform efforts.

“We look forward to reviewing the data and continuing the work to protect and advance public safety while also giving Oklahomans a second chance to reunite with their families, recover from addiction and develop as contributing members of society,” said Baylee Lakey, a Stitt spokeswoman.

Barbara Hoberock



Twitter: @bhoberock