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Roundup of Oklahoma editorials


Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Journal Record, Aug. 18, 2014

True paths to peace

Journalists, like most folks, can suffer from self-centeredness. When something happens to one of us, we think that automatically makes it news.

Last week, members of the media were covering police actions in Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal shooting of an unarmed man named Michael Brown. In the days and nights that followed, professional and amateur images showed nonviolent protesters with their hands raised, approaching police who were in body armor. Armored personnel carriers cleared public streets, and tear gas was fired into the residents' yards.

Wednesday night, two journalists were detained, as were others over the weekend as the violence ebbed and flowed. Taking reporters into custody, in particular, caught the news media's eye.

Some of the public may see the reaction as journalistic arrogance. But deeper questions lurk: What were the officers trying to hide? What did they think was going to happen that would look bad on tape or in print?

Why does a police department in a relatively small town have military surplus equipment, but not dashboard video cameras that could shed light on the initial incident?

Police officers have an important and dangerous job. Even when they operate with restraint, they know one image can give the wrong impression. But when a line of cops rolls down a residential street tossing flash-bang grenades like an occupying army, the public needs to know, and the people deserve an explanation.

For nearly a week, officials refused to even name the officer involved in the shooting.

In Oklahoma, we're generally lucky. The police seem to treat their fellow citizens with respect, and they attempt to create departments that reflect their communities.

But in every state, in every community, it's important that watchdogs have the power to keep an eye on law enforcement officials, even in times of high tension. Those who protect us must remember their actions are almost always subject to public scrutiny.

Transparency, openness and honesty are the true paths to promoting peace and security in our neighborhoods.

Enid News & Eagle, Aug. 15, 2014

Study needed

Gov. Mary Fallin is echoing legislators in calling for further study of cannabidiol for specialized medical treatment in Oklahoma.

Enid's Sen. Patrick Anderson deserves credit for suggesting a study on the use of cannabinoid extract for epilepsy and diabetes treatment.

During a hearing the Enid lawmaker scheduled on medical cannabis last February, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Select Agencies listened to testimony from families of children with a catastrophic form of epilepsy.

Anderson hopes the Senate study will be scheduled sometime in the fall.

In the Oklahoma House, Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, proposed an interim study on allowing medical trials for using non-intoxicating CBD oil to treat severe seizure disorders in children. Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, suggested a study on medical marijuana for kids.

Fallin recently pledged to ask legislators to work during the next session to support legalization of CBD oil on a limited, medically supervised, trial-only basis. (Gubernatorial challenger Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, also suggested a study on medical treatments for kids with seizures and regulation of experimental medicines.)

"I look forward to working with lawmakers in both parties to pursue policies that can help sick Oklahoma children," Fallin said.

Enid resident Seth Stambaugh, a medical technologist who approached Sen. Anderson about studying cannabidiol's medical uses, was pleased to learn about this new support.

With this subject, we're not talking about the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.

The Oklahoman, Aug. 15.

State inmates in county jail: A problem that sheriffs don't mind

A financial pickle that many county jails in Oklahoma find themselves in provides an example of how difficult it can be to change a long-established government practice.

For years, these jails have housed inmates who were convicted of state crimes. They should be serving their time in state prisons, but they're held locally until space becomes available in those state prisons. Over time what in theory should have been (and probably was at first intended to be) a temporary fix has become a regular practice.

Consequently, county jails now rely on the money that the state Department of Corrections pays them to house DOC inmates. When they formulate their budgets each year, sheriffs automatically build in the amount expected from the DOC.

Earlier this year, DOC Director Robert Patton found out just how important that money is to sheriffs when he began pulling large numbers of state inmates out of jails. Sheriffs let it be known that they were not happy with the change in policy.

Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel, who runs the largest jail in the state, says he could lose roughly $3 million per year as a result of Patton's initiative. "I don't know how we're going to make that up," Whetsel told The Oklahoman recently.

The blowback from sheriffs was interesting. Not so long ago, they were threatening to turn DOC inmates back to the state if they weren't paid a higher daily rate for keeping them. But once Patton started cleaning house, they decided they couldn't get by without it.

We sympathize with Whetsel, whose jail was designed to hold 1,200 but regularly houses 2,400 to 2,600. About 250 of those are DOC inmates waiting for space to open up in the state system; the jail also contracts with DOC to house roughly 300 inmates for their full sentence.

Backlogged courtrooms also contribute to the crowding problem. Oklahoma County Commissioner Ray Vaughan wrote us recently about some of the challenges faced by county jails. He noted that inmates can often be made to wait months or even years before going to trial.

Those are problems that require legislative involvement to remedy. Until lawmakers embrace significant corrections reform or take a new look at sentencing procedures, Oklahoma's jam-packed courts and prison system will remain bottled up.

Whetsel wants Patton to meet him halfway and allow DOC inmates to remain in his jail for 30 days before they're moved to a prison. Patton says the number of DOC inmates at the Oklahoma County jail will go back up a bit once construction concerns facing the jail are addressed.

But Patton says his overriding concern is the taxpayer, as it should be. Whether state inmates are being housed in state prisons or county jails, taxpayers ultimately foot the bill. Patton has an obligation to spend those tax dollars as wisely as possible, even if it means upsetting the status quo.

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