I have little direct knowledge of state level law enforcement. However, I'm pretty sure we are all aware of the largest agencies, including Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Just those three agencies have a combined budget of $514.8 million.
What I did not know is the number of agencies that have law enforcement responsibilities. According to Wikipedia, 24 separate agencies enforce laws in the state of Oklahoma. When you think about it, that makes sense as there are many more areas of enforcement we typically are not aware of.
One of those is near and dear to many folks who live and play in the Illinois River watershed, as there are legal limitations to what can go into the river. Especially relevant now is phosphorous. If there's not someone watching and enforcing, that could be a real problem, so the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality is charged with enforcing those standards (laws).
I know much of the tourism around this region is based on water, and that is going to increase with the development of the white-water park near Watts. All of that water will flow down to the canoeing and kayaking float companies here, then to Lake Tenkiller, and we need that water to be clear and healthy. I am grateful to the DEQ and the Water Resources Board, who work with the GRDA, for their efforts.
The other directly applicable agency that we don't often give thought to is the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. It is these folks who are often called "rangers" and who ensure the wildlife we have is dealt with in a sustainable way. If there's poaching or other illicit/illegal activity having to do with wildlife, these are the folks who get called out. The rest of us can breathe easy knowing those state law enforcement agents are on duty.
Another office many folks aren't aware of is the Office of Juvenile Affairs. This department works diligently to help with youth who get sideways with the law. Generally, this means community placement and supervision to ensure the slippery slope into delinquency is avoided. They work with other law enforcement agencies, the courts and family members to help youth stay out of trouble and in school. Failing that, they do have facilities in Tecumseh and Manitou that have both boys and girls where the interventions are more restrictive and intense.
Maintaining a civil society requires people to get along and follow the rules. As in sporting events, where there are referees, umpires and judges that know and enforce the rules, civil society has the same with different names. Laws, or rules, are passed by the Legislature and approved by the governor. Those laws have no meaning if they are not followed by all the rest of us. Fortunately, most citizens are willing to follow those rules and we all get along. While it may seem expensive and require we pay taxes, that is a necessary price to pay and one I don't mind.
I know the men and women of the state law enforcement agencies are there 24/7, paying attention and keeping a watchful eye so I don't have to. We can rest easy because of the work they do. I think that's a good thing.
Robert Lee is a retired social worker with interests in history and politics. He lives in Tahlequah.