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Sheriffs: Rep. Cleveland’s criticism ‘strongly misguided’

Every day, Oklahoma’s sheriffs and deputies put themselves in the line of fire to serve, defend and protect public safety. Far too often, the burden these brave professionals bear is met with limited means of professional support and resources.

However, one Oklahoma nonprofit has their back. Since 1991, the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association has worked earnestly to provide support to Oklahoma’s sheriffs through training, education, developing laws, providing technical and informational support and policies that promote public safety. OSA is a vital resource for sheriffs in their mission to serve and protect Oklahomans. It is an organization to which I and my fellow 4,000 active members — including deputies, detention officers, reserve deputies and support staff across Oklahoma’s 77 counties — proudly belong.

We have recently found ourselves in the crosshairs of a member of the Oklahoma Legislature who wishes to vilify our organization and fictitiously cast our leadership as modern-day sheriffs of Nottingham.

The OSA finds Rep. Bobby Cleveland (R-Slaughterville) strongly misguided in his attempts to discredit our association. His verbal attack comparing Oklahoma’s county sheriffs to “a mafia” was not only inflammatory but demonstrates someone with a blatant disregard for local law enforcement. His most recent bid to use Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office to disparage OSA’s mission to support law enforcement personnel further proves he is wholly unfit to lead or serve as a member of any legislative committee charged with oversight of the policies governing and protecting the citizens of Oklahoma.

Since 2005, OSA has worked to provide more than 5,400 hours of training available to sheriffs and their departments across all 77 counties. Along with the training offered by OSA, the organization creates a community where sheriffs can build relationships with one another, share resources and better serve their constituencies. By providing these support services, OSA does our part to ensure that Oklahoma’s only law enforcement officers directly accountable to the people can protect their communities.

Sheriffs seeking solidarity and strength

This is not the first time Cleveland has gone after law enforcement but rather a pattern. Past targets include the Association of County Commissioners, Oklahoma Game Wardens, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Someone in Cleveland’s position as chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, conceivably more so than any other in the Legislature, should understand and appreciate the vital work and support the OSA provides to all Oklahoma sheriffs. I find these attacks on our association to be unwarranted, unprovoked and, to be frank, grievously misinformed.

It is unclear what fuels Cleveland’s personal vendetta and why he seeks to hunt blame rather than improve programs — like the Warrant Collection Program and Oklahoma Temporary Motorist Liability Plan, which the OSA is charged by law to uphold. I believe that declaring war on a nonprofit that represents and provides support to Oklahoma sheriffs is a strange and reckless dereliction of duty for any state official.

As bullies only respond to solidarity and strength, we, as sheriffs, and the OSA are collectively prepared to face Cleveland head on in order to protect Oklahomans from harm. Accordingly, we call on him to issue a public apology and, in the future, seek to work with Oklahoma’s sworn law enforcement officers.

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