Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Change to Law Governing Municipalities Signed

Legislation signed into law this month will tweak Oklahoma statutes that define the powers of an elected police chief.

House Bill 1322, by State Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) and State Sen. Mark Allen (R-Spiro), defines the powers of an elected police chief as including administrative, day-to-day control of the police department.

Bennett said the intent was to clarify the chief's role because of an incident that happened in his district, which eventually led to elected Sallisaw Police Chief Shaloa Edwards leaving office.

"Oklahoma statute did not specifically define an elected police chief's powers as administrative and day-to-day control of the police department," said Bennett. "So, constituents came to me when a local police chief was stripped of his administrative operation of the police department. They felt like they had voted him in and didn't feel like it was proper for him to lose his powers, except through an election. It was because of the vague language of the law that the officials involved at the time were able to remove his powers."

The legislation also specifies that a city charter would take precedence over that statute.

"In the incident that led me to this legislation, the city charter's language was also unclear, which allowed the city to pass an ordinance to take away the chief's ability to run the department," Bennett said. "However, if a city charter has clear language that defines the police chief's role, I didn't want the state to overrule that language. My legislation is just for when clarity is needed, it's not meant to be top-down. It is meant to protect and ensure the power is given back to the people and elected officials to the voters--not bureaucracies."

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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