My Comment On The OSBI’s Bad Publicity In 2009 – 2010, part 2

9 12 2010

The criticism from December 2009 did not go away, and a news report on April 2, 2010 announced that the FBI was unhappy with the OSBI:

“The FBI offered the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation the assistance of its Child Abduction Response Team in the search for 7-year-old Aja Johnson , but their proposal was declined, FBI spokesman Gary Johnson said Thursday.”

I see two issues of interest to me in this development. One: the public criticism of the OSBI investigation of the Aja Johnson case; and Two: the FBI going public with such criticism.

The concerns over the unsolved Carol Daniels murder case of 2009 were still an on-going matter when the Aja Johnson case happened. By now it would be safe to say that publicity, the news media, and public relations in general at the OSBI may have become a “challenge.”

Then, in early April 2010, the Oklahoma City office of the FBI goes public with their criticism of the OSBI. This act on their part was highly unusual. What could have caused the local FBI officials to do this?

A few days later, OSBI responded. Spokeswoman Jessica Brown defended OSBI and it’s handling of high-profile homicide cases. Brown presented statistics for the years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 showing the clearance rates for homicide cases handled by the OSBI. The statistics showed a clearance rate much higher than the national average.

The coverage of this press conference by the news media included references to additional unsolved homicides and interviews of victim’s relatives. The cases referred to by the news media were specifically from that five year time period, and were therefore a timely reference. The news media also touched on an important issue in one of it’s questions to Brown:

Asked whether they are spread too thin, she replied, “We could always use more agents.”

Brown had said in 2009 that “no agent has the luxury of working solely on one case” and “an average workload for agents is between 15 and 17 cases.” The key administrative detail here that has not quite been addressed is simply this: the OSBI does not have enough agents and has not had enough agents for many, many years.

This is the issue that should be under the microscope. In 1960, the OSBI had about 23 agents, including the Director. You can view their group photo here. How many agents does the OSBI currently have, and, what duties are they assigned to? In 2010 the OSBI had about 81 agent positions, including the director and other supervisors. About 7 of those positions were vacant due to retirements and resignations.

The Oklahoma legislature determines exactly how many employees are allowed in a state agency, including the OSBI. There are two aspects involved: the number of agents as set by the legislature, and, the amount of money allocated by the legislature. (Sometimes a few agent positions are funded by federal grants.) Because of the financial difficulties of state government and the resulting budget cuts, the amount of money provided to the OSBI is not always the same as the amount of money needed to fund all of the existing positions. Because of the budget problems, those 7 agent vacancies are unlikely to be filled anytime soon.

Of the 81 agent positions, about 50% are supervisors and agents in specialized units. For example, there were about 11 crime scene agents in 2010. It is to be expected that, like anywhere else, there will be agents who are gone on military leave, medical leave, etc.

In the end, during 2010 there were about 39 agents classified as “general assignment” who had the main responsibility for investigating homicides. These agents handle any crime category not already covered by a specialized unit.

Any of the 81 agents and supervisors may find themselves assisting in any homicide investigation in the state. But none of them exclusively work only homicide cases. There does not exist within the OSBI a full time homicide unit focused solely on homicide investigations. The 39 general assignment agents who handle the homicide investigation duties also work numerous other criminal investigations.

So, in 1960 there were about 20 or so OSBI agents. Fifty years later, there are only about double that amount who have the main responsibility for investigating homicides.




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