Oklahoma City, OK – Oklahoma law enforcement agencies have observed a surge in crime following a 2017 law change that reclassified certain drug and theft offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.
In 2016, Oklahoma voters approved 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 reclassified as misdemeanors.
After the law changes went into effect in 2017, law enforcement officers began noticing “a steady increase of thefts,” the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office (OKSO) said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
According to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI), there was a seven percent uptick in larceny offenses within Oklahoma County in 2017 and 2018, KWTV reported.
In 2019 alone, the OKSO has recovered over $500,000 worth of stolen property, the department said.
OCSO spokesperson Mark Meyers said that the trend appears to be one of the “repercussions” of the law changes, according to KWTV.
“What we’re finding is, it’s basically just a free-for-all right now through portions of Oklahoma County,” Meyers told the news outlet. “And there’s a lot of folks getting their stuff stolen.”
Many criminals have even boasted about using the criminal reform law for their own benefit.
“We’re also finding inmates or criminals we're speaking with are bragging about it,” Meyers told WKTV. “They understand the law and even take calculators with them to make sure they are stealing less than $1,000.”
In order to combat the growing problem, the OCSO and other area law enforcement agencies have banded together to establish the Multi-Jurisdiction Anti-Crime Support Effort (MASE).
“They are sharing resources, information, working with each other on similar cases, determining if they have similar suspects,” Meyers explained said of the 13-agency task force.
The crime surge has not come as a surprise to many law enforcement agencies.
“The first person to stand up and say ‘Here’s a solution,’ doesn’t make it the right solution,” Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Mark Nelson told KWTV in 2016. “We weren’t asked at all – through any of this process.”
Earlier this month, criminal justice reforms in Oklahoma 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 Nov. 4, NBC News reported.
The mass release was also the result of the ballot proposals approved by voters in 2016, The Oklahoman reported.
The legislation established an expedited commutation process for inmates who were sentenced to prison for felonies that were reduced to misdemeanors while they were serving time, The Oklahoman reported.
Under the legislation, offenders with old convictions on their records were also provided with a simplified expungement process.
Leigh Silverhorn was released from Kate Barnard Community Correctional Facility after serving just six months of her 10-year drug possession sentence, FOX News reported.
“I’m excited,” Silverhorn said as she left the prison nearly a decade earlier than planned. “I’m ready. I’m ready to go.”
Shannon Brown was sentenced to 12 years in prison for drug possession, but walked out of prison on Monday after serving less than two years.
"Thank God for the 780 law and great people who voted for it,” Brown declared, according to KOKH.
Lana Lemus has served approximately three years of her 10-year drug possession sentence.
“It’s the great thing that the governor is doing so we can be home with our kids,” Lemus told KOCO.
As long as none of the hundreds of released prisoners reoffend, the state will save nearly $12 million due to their early releases, FOX News reported.
“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," Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said of the mass release.
"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," he noted.