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Violent crime, opioids take center stage as U.S. AG, Okla. AG speak to sheriffs

Heide Brandes / Red Dirt Report
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks to Oklahoma Sheriff's Association event at Rose State College on Thursday.
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MIDWEST CITY, Okla. -- U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association that America is not facing a sentencing problem, but a crime problem, noting that violent crime has risen in the U.S. for the first time in more than two decades.

Sessions, who was the keynote speaker at the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association Thursday at Rose State College, that despite the surge of violent crime in America, others are pushing for lighter sentences for crimes and that leaders “have to be careful” in how they institute criminal justice reform measures.

“Today we are fighting a multi-front battle, an increase in violent crime, a rise in vicious gangs and an opioid epidemic, threats from terrorism, combined with a culture in which family and discipline seems to be eroding further and a disturbing disrespect for the rule of law,” Sessions said. “After decreasing for 20, maybe 30, years, violent crime is coming back with a vengeance.”

Sessions said that he and President Donald Trump will fight against the upward trend of violent crime and the rising opioid issues, but he did not speak specifically on Oklahoma’s criminal justice reforms or the two measures Oklahoma voters approved last November to reduce certain drug possession and property crimes to misdemeanors.

Other speakers like Rep. Scott Biggs (R-Chickasha) and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, however, had plenty to say about lower sentencing and criminal justice reform as well as a push-back to opioid manufacturing companies.

STATE OFFICIALS SPEAK UP

AG Hunter took a bold stance by issuing a challenge to the U.S. Attorney General to join him in treating opioid distributors who aggressively push opioids as the “criminal enterprises” he said they are.

“We’ve spent a lot of time in the Attorney General’s office attempting to put together a comprehensive state plan to address the opioid epidemic,” Hunter said. “We made a decision in the AG’s office to sue multiple drug manufacturers for decades of defrauding prescribers about the addictive qualities of opioids.

“I’m going to be writing a letter today to the Attorney General. In my request to the Attorney General is that the Justice Department and law enforcement on the federal level treat these (opioid) companies like the criminal enterprises that they are. When a distributor allows 9 million pills over a two year period to go into a Western Union account wittingly, that’s a drug cartel. So my challenge is going to be a request to establish a partnership to approach the problem using the Racketeering and (Corrupt) Organizations Act.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. (Heide Brandes / Red Dirt Report)

Hunter also addressed State Questions 780 and 781, which voters passed last November, saying he would work with the State Legislature and law enforcement to promote the promises that were made to the public.

“I have a responsibility to the people of the state, and that responsibility is to keep them safe,” Hunter said. “I am greatly concerned that the promise that was made to voters in 781, that there was going to be dividends for corrections, that our prisons would cease to be overcrowded and that there was going to be this avalanche of money available for treatment programs. Well, that’s not happening, and if it does happen, it won’t be for a while.”

In the meanwhile, Hunter said law enforcement will have to deal with those who fall under the new drug misdemeanors, those who aren’t eligible for drug court programs and who don’t have access to drug treatment programs.

“So essentially, we are institutionalizing a generation of addicts by not providing these programs,” he said. “I’m going to make a commitment to the legislators here today. We’ve got to do something about this. I’m not going to complain about there not being funding for this. My commitment is to work with you during the next legislative session because we have this problem and we have to deal with it. The state and federal government has to investment in treatment programs and drug courts in the states.”

PUSH BACK AGAINST CHANGES

Rep. Biggs refused to hear several criminal justice reform bills in the Criminal Justice and Corrections committee during the last legislative session, effectively killing the criminal justice reform proposals put forth by the Justice Reform Task Force this year.

Biggs said he blamed Gov. Mary Fallin and others of refusing to discuss the definition of “violent” and “nonviolent” crimes and said the Governor and Department of Corrections Director Joseph Allbaugh refused to take part in a survey to classify every felony under Oklahoma law as violent, nonviolent or a new distinction created by Rep. Biggs called “danger to the public.”

State Rep. Scott Biggs, a Chickasha Republican, speaks to Oklahoma Sheriff's Association on Thursday. (Heide Brandes / Red Dirt Report)

“This issue did not just appear overnight,” he said. “This issue has been debated back and forth for decades. What did change overnight was the amount of out-of- state influence. That is what has changed. The Court of Criminal Appeals when addressing the issue of criminal justice reform in 1997 said while cost is a factor that must be considered when formulating a policy, it should not be the only consideration. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s exactly what’s happening right now.”

Rep. Tim Downing (R-Pauls Valley) told the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association that they had allies in the legislature trying to take care of them. He added that voters “bought a good sales pitch” when voting for the criminal justice reforms.

“I can’t stop people from filing bills, but what we can do is continue to point out things that are anti-victim, anti-public safety and anti-law enforcement in the bills,” he said. “What I am against is using numbers to say we are in too big of a crisis and too big of a hurry to listen to the valid concerns of the men and women in law enforcement who are on the front lines putting their lives at risk for public safety. We have time to listen to your voice.”

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb said that any additional criminal justice reforms going forward must have the input of the district attorneys and sheriffs.

SESSIONS SPEAKS

AG Jeff Sessions at Rose State College. (Heide Brandes / Red Dirt Report)

Besides talking about the rise in violent crimes in the nation, Sessions also touched upon civil asset forfeiture and rising death toll of law enforcement officers nationwide.

“We have seen a shocking and unacceptable increase of violence to law enforcement lately. Earlier this week, the FBI released its annual report on violence against police officers, and the report showed more than 60 percent increase last year in the number of police officers feloniously killed in duty,” he said. “It showed a 14 percent increase in law enforcement officers assaulted. One hundred and fifty officers on average were assaulted every day last year.”

Sessions also read the names of the Oklahoma law enforcement officers killed this year in the state, stressing that law enforcement was not the problem.

“Criminals are the problem. Law enforcement is the solution,” he said. “You deserve of the support and respect of every American, and I’m here to today on behalf of President Trump and the Department of Justice to say ‘Thank you. We have your back.

Sessions said President Trump sent three executive orders to the Department of Justice, including directives to support law enforcement on all levels, to reduce crime in America and to dismantle transnational criminal organizations.

“We embrace those challenges,” he said. “Helping law enforcement do their jobs… will always be a top priority of mine and of President Trump. We will not participate – we will not – in anything that will give the slightest comfort to radicals who promote agendas that preach disregard for respect for law enforcement. The Department of Justice has your back.”

To read the full remarks at today's event, go here.

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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