Officials see more emphasis on drugs

Tim Hudson
Journal-Capital

Officials are responding to fluctuating numbers of misdemeanor and felony cases in Osage County.

“Because of the law change you are seeing an increase in the crimes related to drug use: property, burglary, grand larceny, and more conspiracy cases” said Osage County Assistant District Attorney Doug Meritt. “We’re seeing a lot of emphasis on higher level drug activity.”

According to district court records, felonies in Osage County rose in 2016 but fell in 2017. There were 486 felonies filed in 2015, 647 filed in 2016 and 631 filed in 2017.

The number of misdemeanors in the same time frame were 663 filed in 2015, 740 filed in 2016 and 762 filed in 2017.

Like Washington and Nowata County officials, Meritt said a portion could be representative of a recent change in drug laws.

“You are seeing some increase in the number of misdemeanors,” he said. “This profession is a front-loaded process, when the officer on the street decides to make an arrest they drive the train. If they are working drugs really heavy, then we will have a lot of drug cases or if they are working property crime we will have a lot of property crime cases.”

The law made simple drug possession a misdemeanor and not a felony. Questions 780 and 781, were approved by voters in the Nov. 8, 2016, election.

According to state statute information, State Question 780 changed certain nonviolent drug and theft-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, which come with a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of $1,000, thereby reducing the number and duration of state prison sentences for those crimes. The question was connected with State Question 781, as 781 relied on Question 780. Since 780 reclassified certain crimes as misdemeanors it saved the state prison system money by reducing the number and duration of incarcerations. Question 781 was designed to redistribute the money saved by the reduced prison costs to counties to fund rehabilitation of criminals. State Question 781 would not have gone into effect if State Question 780 wasn’t approved.

“I think that’s part of it, the shift from the felony to the misdemeanor and I don’t think that has factored all the way in yet. We are still relatively new in the process,” said Osage County Special Judge Stuart Tate. “I don’t know that it’s fully in. It will be interesting to see what it does when it is in place for a full year.”

He said he thinks more cases will be handled by city courts.

“I think you will see that happening more. Municipalities may handle it with their court stytems, if they do handle more of that for whatever reason our court filings will be less,” he said. “It will be an interesting question as to if it is more overall.”

Meritt said while the court has been busy he hasn’t seen “that much difference as far as the drug trade.”

“Personally I don’t think the trend will continue unless you see an increase in the number of law enforcement,” he said. “The bottom line is that you have the same amount of water put though the pipe. They can only produce so much.”