Creek County Sheriff Bret Bowling was the guest speaker at the May 12 Lions club reunion. Bowling highlighted the events that affected the Sheriff’s Department in 2020, saying the year started fairly uneventfully until the pandemic struck.
“It really changed the world, and certainly for law enforcement, it upset him. We have to face this pandemic, but we also have to serve the public. This created a lot of new challenges, not when it came to calls for service, but in prison.
Bowling said the challenge was to ensure the safety of inmates and staff. He said that from March to October there were “literally” no cases of Covid-19, except for those from other counties. Then, suddenly, several inmates and staff contracted the virus. “It was scary, but we made it.” He said the challenge “was to quarantine the prisoners. We took in all these new detainees and we had to keep them away from the others. Bed space has become a very “high demand”. Another issue was ensuring the safety of children in the juvenile detention center. The sheriff began to look for solutions.
“So we worked closely with the district attorney’s office and the judges to find solutions on how to get some people out of prison without disturbing the public.” He said, “When somebody goes to jail, you want them to stay in jail.”
Bowling said the department worked through this, however, the hardest part was when staff got sick or exposed. While other county agencies may have closed, this was not an option for the sheriff’s department. “We cannot stop the dispatch, we cannot close the prison, we cannot stop the service.”
The location of PPE (personal protective equipment) has also proved problematic. “Everyone was scrambling to try and get this equipment.” Another hurdle was the installation and implementation of it, along with legal issues, such as whether or not clients should appear in person.
Bowling was grateful that the Department worked through this without any major illnesses and that he never tested positive for antibodies to the illness.
“So we went through it all, which in itself was a huge challenge, and then comes McGirt.”
The McGirt decision is a surprising landmark decision that essentially says that the five tribes of Oklahoma still have reservations and therefore the state cannot prosecute tribal members for many crimes.
Bowling lamented that there are “so many lawyers” and that everyone has their own opinion, which makes it difficult to know the right course of action for the department.
Sheriff Bowling told club members that the reason for the deputy’s new color schemes for the deputy’s cars was to make them more visible. This was in response to complaints of “we never see the sheriff”.
Retaining and recruiting MPs has also been difficult, according to Bowling, in part because of the salary scale. “We are wasting MPs’ time all the time to other agencies. When we go to the Excise Board, of course, we will try to increase our salary scale, in competition with our police services. “
One of the members asked the sheriff if the department was experiencing “disrespect” and “negativity” as a result of the social upheaval taking place in the country. Bowling replied, “We get a lot of ‘I know the law, I know my rights, I don’t have to answer that.’ ‘
Another member asked if the large number of clinics in the area created a problem for law enforcement. The sheriff thought there “may be an increase in the number of people driving high,” but other than that he was unaware of any real issues with the establishments themselves. He followed that up with, “Here’s a problem I have with dispensaries and shoots right now: we’re on tribal lands, aren’t we? We are officially on a reserve – the Supreme Court said [so]. He reminded the audience that cannabis is not legal under federal law and reserves are considered federal lands.
Ultimately, Bowling said he wanted the public to know law enforcement and firefighters have been working diligently during this pandemic.