Tulsa County DA: Public Safety Is In Jeopardy
By Jeffrey Smith, The News On 6
TULSA COUNTY -- Tulsa County's top prosecutor says the state's budget crisis could soon put your safety at risk.
Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris is sending out a dire warning to state legislators. He warns further budget cuts to his department will jeopardize its ability to prosecute criminals.
The District Attorney's office is facing up to a 16 percent pay cut. Harris says that will hinder his efforts to put people like Brandon Brixey, a convicted sex offender, behind bars forever. Brixey was sentenced Monday to the max of two life sentences in prison terms, to run back to back, plus another 85 years.
"What people don't understand is that police arrest, but if we don't prosecute, then those people walk out of the county jail," said Harris.
Harris sent a memo to all Tulsa legislators. The Subject Line says it all: Public Safety in Jeopardy.
Harris says the DA's office had an eight percent cut last year and they lost four assistants, meaning other prosecutors have to pick up the slack. If the budget is cut again, by nearly three quarters of a million dollars, Harris says it'll be catastrophic.
"I don't have many options. Either I prosecute fewer criminals, I eliminate jobs or I furlough," said Harris.
Twenty-one Tulsa prosecutors handled close to 6,100 felony cases last year and more than 6,500 misdemeanor cases.
Harris' budget is $8 million. Only half of that comes from the state, the rest is raised from auctions, forfeitures, fees and grants.
"We're 95 percent budget for salaries and benefits. That means we're a people organization," said Harris.
State lawmakers are grappling with a $1.2 billion shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year. The State's Department of Education, for instance, is facing a 10 percent budget reduction.
Harris says law and order should be a priority.
The legislature could set next year's budget by the end of April. More than two dozen Oklahoma District Attorneys, including Tim Harris, will appear at the capital Wednesday morning to meet with legislators and protest budget cuts.
Copy of e-mail Tim Harris sent state lawmakers:
I am contacting you today because the safety of the citizens of Tulsa County and Oklahoma is in jeopardy.
The money proposed for appropriation to prosecute criminals is inadequate to provide for the safety of the public.
I am asking you to prioritize public safety as the #1 priority in your budget considerations to assure that the citizens of Tulsa County and Oklahoma remain protected.
Please review the attached information which briefly explains the serious impact these proposed cuts will have on the citizens you represent.
Tulsa County District Attorney