A collection of recent editorials from Oklahoma newspapers:
The Journal Record, April 6, 2015
Cold beer, hard facts
Legislators and Capitol reporters have all but conceded that the beer bill by state Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, has gone flat for 2015. There is hope that it will get a new head of foam next year after an interim study, but the debate over Oklahoma's liquor laws is missing the mark.
Bice's bill, SB 383, would not only allow liquor stores to sell cold beer, it would allow chilled, full-strength beer to be sold by any retailer licensed to sell alcohol. The interest is in grocery and convenience stores, of course, and a committee will have to send all the regulatory work to either Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission, which now handles liquor stores, or the tax commission, which oversees the low-point sales outlets.
For all the ballyhoo about a free-market economy, isn't that precisely what should happen? Let the liquor stores sell cold beer, as well as lemons and limes, tonic and ginger ale, cigarettes and cocktail napkins. Allow grocery and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer. There are plenty of states, California for one, where that model can be examined. Liquor stores continue to sell liquor, even though consumers can buy it at Safeway along with their groceries. In practice, no one wants to bother with the bigger store when all they want is a bottle of wine to go with dinner. What revenue is lost to grocers is recovered with the sale of nonalcoholic products such as mixers and tobacco.
The debate isn't really about whether that's a good idea. The argument is whether one set of businesses - in this case the liquor stores - should get preferential legislative treatment over another group, the grocers and convenience stores. But there's an ever broader issue. Ignore for a moment the tug of war between those two groups and consider the interests of all Oklahomans (at least those 21 years and older). None want to buy low-alcohol beer; have you ever heard anyone say, "I'd like a Sam Adams. Do you have that in a 3.2?" None want their brand choices restricted because brewers won't distribute in a state with such neo-Prohibition constructs, and no one wants to buy warm beer. Teetotalers will still be welcome to avoid liquor stores all together.
In this case the answer is easy if legislators merely consider what would serve the greatest number of Oklahomans, who should be given a chance to vote on it sooner rather than later.
Tulsa World, April 12, 2015
Review of sheriff's program needed after fatal shooting
A 73-year-old reserve deputy fatally shot a fleeing suspect during an April 2 undercover operation.
Subsequently, Tulsa County Sheriff's officials determined that reserve deputy Robert Bates thought he was holding a stun gun, but actually had a pistol when he shot Eric Courtney Harris.
They also revealed that the sheriff's 130-person reserve deputy squad is full of "a lot of wealthy people" and donors, some of whom are participating routinely in operations like the undercover investigation. We think that goes well beyond the public's comfort level, and it's time for a closer look.
We haven't lost track of the facts. Harris was a suspected criminal involved in a serious crime when he died. He had a history of crime, including violence against law enforcement.
Previously in the investigation, Harris had sold meth to undercover investigators and said he had guns too. He met a task force member in a Tulsa parking lot intent on selling him a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, but then ran when deputies tried to arrest him.
During the attempt to arrest Harris, the reserve deputy saw Harris reach near his waistband, and the reserve deputy fired what he thought was his stun gun, according the sheriff's investigation.
It was a confused, tense, physical scene and the suspect ended up dead.
So why was the reserve deputy involved in the first place?
The sheriff's office says there is nothing odd about that.
Sheriff's Maj. Shannon Clark said it's not unusual for a reserve deputy to be on an assignment such as the Violent Crimes Task Force. They're an important force extender for the department, he said.
Tulsa Police Sgt. Jim Clark, who reviewed the incident independently for the sheriff's office, said he has looked at the reserve program in the past and that it meets national standards.
The reservists are typically unpaid volunteers who work other full-time jobs, but they go through the same although abbreviated training components as a normal deputy and have full powers and authority of a deputy while on duty.
Bates has received hundreds of hours of specialized training, including homicide investigation and meth lab investigation and decontamination. He also was chairman of and a $2,500 donor to Sheriff Stanley Glanz's 2012 re-election campaign.
We respect Sgt. Clark, but we're not convinced.
We think the sheriff's reserve deputy program is a good idea. We encourage civic-minded people interested in helping law enforcement to join.
But reservists should be working in appropriate roles for what they are: concerned, dedicated volunteers.
Clark said TPD has used reservists in undercover operations, but a spokesman for the department said they are mostly used for traffic control and parking lot patrols during "safe shopper" operations.
There's danger there too, but it's a far less exposed position than being part of an undercover gun buy from a drug dealer. We want full-time, paid deputies doing the gritty work of policing the county.
The death of Harris gives pretty obvious evidence that the sheriff's reserve program has gone beyond what the public ever would have imagined and is in need of a thorough, citizen-led, publicly conducted review.
The Lawton Constitution, April 12, 2015
Terrible incident in Charleston
The outrageous fatal shooting in the back of a black man in North Charleston, South Carolina, by a white police officer is horrible. Now the entire nation and law enforcement should seriously consider buying more body cameras for officers while reviewing training techniques. This seems like one incident that could have been avoided.
According to reports, Officer Michael Slager stopped motorist Walter Scott for a tail light violation. Scott told Slager that he did not have the vehicle registration because he was in the process of buying the vehicle. Scott got in the car and then got back out and took off running, and Slager started running, too, according to USA Today.
A bystander videoed what turned out to be an eight-shot incident. Everyone we talked to is outraged that a man is dead in an incident that started over a tail light that did not work. That's incredible.
There may well be more to the story, but it would seem there were other alternatives, such as confiscating the car and searching at a later time for the driver.
In the heat of the moment, a routine stop ended very badly. It is sad and maybe preventable in the future. Would improved training and review of other options make a difference in the future?
We have to hope so.
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