INVESTIGATION: Undercover video shows workers sentenced to community service in Tulsa not working

TULSA - When people are sentenced to community service instead of jail time, they are supposed to work in the community.

According to the City of Tulsa website, when a defendant does not have the ability to pay his or her fines and/or court costs the Court may sentence that person to a community service 'work day' order.

We talked to a judge who said that because of jail overcrowding, he will sometimes sentence defendants to community service for minor offenses. He said it serves a dual purpose. It puts less strain on the jail and it's an opportunity to benefit the community.

Our 2NEWS undercover investigation caught people sentenced to community service in the city of Tulsa, not working. It has city leaders demanding changes.

On four separate days, our undercover cameras caught contractors, hired by the city, driving around community services crews, not picking up trash, taking long breaks and waiting on crews that never showed up.

Click on the video player to see a compilation of the four days we followed the crews around Tulsa. If you're on your phone go to the Video section to watch the clip.

Tax dollars are paying $150,000 a year to pay for contractors, who are supposed to oversee community service crews.

2NEWS Investigators followed around community service crews, tracking their every move.

Some days we saw them hard at work, but on others the contractor drove right past the trash the crew was supposed to pick up.

We showed our undercover video to Mark Hogan, head of the City of Tulsa's security.

"Yea, that's what he should've been picking up," said Hogan.

Our cameras even caught someone serving community service, who appears to be sleeping. Another day, the van showed up, but the crew didn't.

"They're supposed to be there everyday. There's a lot of days we show up and nobody shows up for their community service," said Hogan.

The interim court administrator, Kelly Brader, disagrees and says that's rare. She's on the sentencing end of community service and sends community service crews to Mark Hogan.

Hogan admits there's an oversight issue.

"We could have more supervision, which would give us more accountability," he said.

We showed Tulsa City Councilor Jeannie Cue our video. She too has concerns about oversight and the work.

"Obviously, they're there for a purpose, to work off their fines, and I don't see anyone working. I see someone driving around," said Cue.

So who's in charge of this program?

The answer is an even bigger issue.

City officials originally said it was the County's job to oversee community service. The County said it was the City.

After several e-mails, more than a dozen phone calls and a week's worth of conversations, the City finally owned up to oversight responsibility, but only for parts of the program.

We uncovered the City is transporting both city and county community service crews.

That means the City of Tulsa is paying for the contractors, the vehicles, and the gas to transport city and county community service crews.

Brader didn't realize the City was footing the bill for the County too, until the 2NEWS Investigators told her.

With this new information, splitting the cost is now up for discussion.

"That's something we need to look into, to see if maybe we should share the cost," said Brader.

So who's going to "take charge" of overseeing the community service program?

It's something Councilor Cue says she is going to find out.

"I want to thank you Marla for bringing this to my attention. We want our city to be ran to the best it can because these are citizens' tax dollars," said Cue.

Councilor Cue has already met with Hogan. Hogan told Cue that he has already met with the
contractors and expressed his concerns, telling them they are supposed to work eight hours a day.

While the City of Tulsa does transport some county community service crews, Tulsa County runs a different program of its own and has not reported any problems.

We will continue to follow the progress of the story and any changes that come as a result of our investigation.

What do you think? Tweet us @KJRH2HD using #2investigates or comment in the section below.

Follow Marla Carter on Twitter - @MarlaCarterKJRH

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