We deserve aggressive prosecution of rapists, murderers and drug traffickers who need to be removed from society. At the same time, we need to engage with alternative courts that emphasize conservative principles of personal responsibility for non-violent offenders, accountability to victims, and the best public safety return on investment for the people of Tulsa County.
Prisons are full. The problem has become so dire, that in 2015, in a measure estimated to save millions, Governor Mary Fallin implemented a parole policy allowing Oklahoma’s most violent offenders to become eligible for earlier release. These are the exact people who should be spending the most time away from the rest of us, in civil society. We are now sending so many non-violent offenders to prison, that in its 2019 Budget, the Dept. of Corrections is requesting $1.53 Billion, up more than a billion dollars from Fiscal Year 2018’s massive $485 Million budget. Included in the budget is more than $800 million to build two new medium security prisons. As prison overpopulation continues to bust budgets across the nation, it’s time for the people of Tulsa County to ask whether there is a better approach than releasing rapists and murderers while housing more and more non-violent offenders.
Emphasis on evidence based, cost-effective alternatives to incarceration, such as mental health courts, drug courts and treatment programs for non-violent female and juvenile offenders. Year after year, Tulsa County proves to be a national model for private enterprise in civic engagement. As District Attorney, Ben Fu will focus on coordinating cost-effective reform efforts for amenable offenders who will return to society by harnessing the power of families, local business, charities, faith-based groups and communities as an alternative to overbroad, over-incarceration that leads to costly corrections budgets burdening tax-payers’ pocketbooks.
The District Attorney serves as the lead law enforcement official for the county. Not surprisingly, a good relationship between the various police departments and the District Attorney is crucial in order to coordinate the investigation and prosecution of Tulsa County’s most violent offenders. With the failed prosecution of Officer Betty Shelby, which lead to the Tulsa Police Union filing an ethics complaint against the current District Attorney, the relationship between local law enforcement and the leadership of the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office has never been worse.
The current administration failed to secure the faith of the Tulsa Police in its handling of the Betty Shelby case. In closing argument before a Tulsa County jury, the prosecution openly accused Tulsa Police Homicide Detectives of a “setup” and of purposefully aiding Shelby in her defense. The District Attorney is independent from all other police departments in Tulsa County, and, at times, there will be disagreements. However, there is always room for civil discourse. Improper police work is a sad reality of any system, and should be aggressively investigated. However, a District Attorney accusing the Tulsa Police of impropert conduct can only erode the public’s faith in that institution. To do so without any evidence needlessly tarnishes the Tulsa Police.
As a former prosecutor for eight years, Ben Fu has worked closely with all of the various police agencies in Tulsa County to cultivate a reputation for professionalism and mutual respect. New leadership at the District Attorney’s Office is needed to restore the severely damaged relationship between local police and their elected D.A. As District Attorney, Ben Fu will implement evidence-based practices to more thoroughly evaluate and review cases of officer involved shootings, including requiring use of force training for prosecutors reviewing such charges.
Charging decisions by prosecutors directly affect the life, liberty and property of thousands of Tulsa County residents. When a prosecutor overcharges they ask more of an offender than justice demands. Overcharging can create unnecessary strain on the court system and on prosecutors when both should be focused on public safety and the rule of law.
According to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, Tulsa County law enforcement made 20,228 arrests in 2011. In 2016, that number was a slightly smaller 19,515 arrests. Despite the lower number of arrests in 2016, the Tulsa County District Attorney’s office filed more than 2,000 additional felonies and almost 500 more misdemeanors in 2016 than in 2011.
As a Republican in favor of data-driven alternatives to mass incarceration, Ben Fu will cultivate a culture of smart prosecution, prioritizing resolution of cases based on the aims of justice, rather than on maximizing leverage against the criminally accused in Tulsa County. Where the particular acts of an offender justify significant incarceration, all charges supported by the evidence and necessary to secure that result will be aggressively pursued. However, where non-violent property crimes and mentally ill defendants are concerned, prosecution will emphasize restitution to victims, minimizing the cost of prosecution to the courts, the county and offenders, and treatment for veterans and those offenders left behind by our nation’s under-funded mental health system.
Over the past four years, the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office has sustained record turnover in the face of shrinking budgets and a strained relationship with the judiciary and defense bar. The District Attorney’s Office serves the vital function of securing convictions and incarceration for the most violent offenders. A revolving door of frustrated, and underpaid, prosecutors is a recipe for disaster as those in charge of prosecuting Tulsa County’s most violent offenders have less and less experience on which to rely.
Currently, roughly half of the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office budget is sustained through a controversial supervision program. Although it is a vital funding tool for the office, over-reliance on such programs can lead to conflicts of interest, and a funding mechanism balanced on the backs of the poorest probationers. These added costs can often lead to offenders being sent to prison, on Oklahoma taxpayers’ dimes, because they couldn’t afford to pay supervision and court costs. Meanwhile, prosecutors are graduating from law school with an average of $80,000 in debt and a starting salary of $42,500, meaning that many have to go further into debt in order to serve their community at an already demanding job. New solutions to funding are needed to turn the tide or risk permanently damaging the Office’s ability to protect public safety.
Ben Fu will coordinate with local law firms, businesses, and law schools to establish longevity programs, debt-relief, and an alumni association to return the Office to its former place as the premier proving ground for Tulsa’s best and brightest young litigators. Further efforts will be dedicated to recruiting and retention, including extended outreach and coordination with all Oklahoma law schools, networking and job placement for promising young prosecutors seeking to leave prosecution for private practice, and longevity programs to ease the financial burden and encourage those select few who make the choice to become career prosecutors and serve their community as their life’s work.