In a surprise move, long-time Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel announced his retirement Wednesday. The Sheriff will quit on March 1, 2017, after twenty years as the top law enforcement agent in the county.
The OCSO provides coverage over many miles in Eastern Oklahoma County, and partners with the Luther Police Department on programs and patrol.
In his four page resignation letter, the Sheriff lists “many needs at the Sheriff’s office” including:
- Replace the jail. After 15 years and four studies, there still is not an actual plan to replace the agine and deteriorating county jail that I inherited. In each study, professional jail architects and engineers have recommended building a new jail as the most efficient use of tax dollars. In less than five years, including decreased operational costs, new construction is actually less expensive than remodeling the current jail and building annexes.
- Stable funding. A stable funding source is sorely needed to operate the Sheriff’s Office, especially the jail. The pay scale for all Sheriff’s Office employees is extremely low and employees deserve to be paid a living and competitive wage to attract and retain employees. Sheriff’s Office employees have not received a cost-of-living wage in years. In addition, there has been the loss of 155 authorized positions in all areas of operations due to budget cuts.
Whetsel said he supports “the very important work of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Task Force and remain committed to a positive outcome and implementation of recommendations.” He said he will be available to provide input to the task force.
His letter recounts his 50-year history in law enforcement, beginning in 1967 in Midwest City. He also served with the OBNDD and police departments in Spencer, Nicoma Park, Jones, and as police chief in Choctaw.
He served as president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, Oklahoma Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association and Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association. And he is a member of the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Hall of Fame. He counts as a life highlight his private meeting with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.
“My passion for traffic safety was fueled after I was dispatched to a traffic crash only to find the crash involved my family and resulted in the death of my first wife, Darlene, and our two-year-old child, Rebecca, and critically injured our four-year-old daughter Stacy,” he wrote.
He was awarded the highest national traffic safety award, the J Stannard Baker Award, and others. “My mission has been to save lives and I know we have.”
He concluded the letter with scripture, 2 Timothy 4:7, and Ecclesiastes 3:1.
Whetsel wrote, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, and now this is the season and the time for my retirement. I thank the citizens for allowing me to serve.”
Whetsel’s tenure is under a cloud following a state audit last year critical of management of the jail and the sheriff’s office. Nevertheless, Whetsel won re-election in November.
A special election is expected.