Lower burglary, theft rates attributed to S.Q. 780, better security systems

Apr. 2—A ballot measure approved by voters to raise the felony threshold value from $500 to $1,000 was reversed by the passing of House Bill 3694, which could affect certain aspects of law enforcement.

In 2016, voters approved State Question 780 and in 2019, the Legislature passed H.B. 1269 making the provisions of S.Q. 780 retroactive. The bill is now being considered by the Senate Public Safety Committee.

"[H.B. 1269] allowed those convicted of felonies for crimes that became misdemeanors following passage of SQ 780 to apply to have their sentences commuted by the Pardon and Parole Board," states an article on the Oklahoma Policy Institute website, "SQ 780 and SQ 781," published Sept. 8, 2017 and updated Aug. 18, 2023.

S.Q. 781 created the County Community Safety Investment Fund, states the article, "Bill Redirecting Responsibility of S.Q. 781 Funds Passes Committee," published on the Oklahoma House of Representatives website Apr 06, 2023. The fund consists of costs saved by reclassifying as misdemeanors certain property crimes and drug possession.

The purpose for S.Q. 781 was the funds must be distributed to counties for funding rehabilitative programs. The measure became effective when S.Q. 780 was passed, states the summary on the measure from the Oklahoma Secretary of State, January 27, 2016.

District Attorney Jack Thorp believes that S.Q. 780's reduction of several crimes to misdemeanor has impacted case filings, Thorp said.

"I support the reversal of S.Q. 780. I think the state Chamber has been a proponent due to the increase in metropolitan shoplifting," Thorp said.

Sentences handed down for misdemeanor crimes usually result in some type of probated sentence with an emphasis on restitution, depending on criminal history, Thorp said. He has also seen a reduction in felony charges.

"For all of District 27, our felony filings are much lower than five years ago. Reasons? I'd like to say solid police work and prosecution," Thorp said. "I know major violent crimes are significantly reduced in all four counties."

District 27 consists of Cherokee, Adair, Sequoyah and Wagoner counties.

Both Police Chief Nate King and Cherokee County Sheriff Jason Chennault say some crime rates have fallen.

"Certain crimes like property crimes have fallen somewhat, but shoplifting has gone up every year," King said.

King believes the lowering of the value of stolen property by S.Q 780 has had an effect on those numbers.

"Something else we've seen over the last decade is some retailers don't pursue criminal charges on shoplifting, because they are insured and can file an insurance claim," he said.

It could also be due to the possibility of being sued and losing the suit by an individual who claims harm was done to them when stopped for shoplifting, King said.

One other reason for the falling rates of crime is because security has become more affordable for homeowners than a decade ago, King said.

Over the past nine years since the police department started its social media page, there have only been two cases that weren't solved when photos were posted from cameras. The criminals are being identified and caught quickly due to these photos, King said.

"And police departments have better technology to better serve the communities," King said.

King said more and more people were being charged for felonies, and laws were passed — such as S.Q. 780 — expanding boundaries for defining misdemeanors versus felonies to cut down on prison crowding.

Statistics provided by King indicate burglary and theft decreased in 2023 from 2022.

In the county, statistics compiled by Chennault reflect an overall decrease in arrests and reports taken. Exceptions were driving under the influence, which increased from 33 in 2022 to 35 in 2023, and reports taken for forcible rape, which went from 13 in 2022 to 31 in 2023.

Burglary and breaking and entering have decreased from 118 to 80 in the county, and Chennault also attributes this decrease to increased security by homeowners and businesses.

"That's something we've seen that has helped us to identify suspects and getting them arrested, because even just a ring doorbell camera helps us identify the victimizers," Chennault said. "It doesn't stop people from breaking into your house, but it helps us find the people who break into your house."

Bold actions by thieves in retail establishments are going undeterred by employees because it isn't worth the employee's being hurt, Chennault said.

"Dollar General — that's our Walmart in the county — that's where we are having the most trouble. People just run in, steal and leave," Chennault said. "We take a report on it, but there's not anything there to stop that person who wants whatever he wants to steal from just running in and grabbing it."