- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Three men are running to succeed longtime Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris, who announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election after a career as a prosecutor that spanned nearly three decades - 15 years of it as DA for Oklahoma’s second largest-city.

Whoever wins the election in the northeastern Oklahoma county will have his work cut out for him. The DA will oversee dozens of employees and marshal limited funds to target what all three candidates say is priority No. 1: an increase in violent crime. Just in the city of Tulsa, violent crime is up - there were 24 more homicides last year than in 2012 and nearly 60 more rapes in 2013 than the previous year.

The next DA will also have to deal with a string of high-profile murder cases and continued fallout from a federal police corruption scandal that’s led to early release or exoneration for nearly 50 residents who were jailed based on questionable testimony from officers or bogus evidence. A recent lawsuit by one of the men freed after the probe recently reached a $425,000 settlement with the city.

And he will need to use the department’s roughly $8 million budget to retain top talent.

So who would want to take the reins on the operation, and do it for around $122,000, which is what Harris made last year?

Two of the candidates come from the state Legislature - state Sen. Brian Crain and state Rep. Fred Jordan. The third, Stephen Kunzweiler, has been a prosecutor for more than 24 years and is chief of the criminal division in the DA’s office.

All three are Republicans, and all say they want to curtail an increase of drug and gang violence that’s permeated once-placid areas.

Examples include a man who was fatally shot at a midtown Best Buy in 2012, the innocent bystander of a drive-by shooting. Or a young couple who were fatally shot in 2011 at a local park. Or the four women who were fatally shot in 2013 at an apartment complex that one of the candidates, Crain, recalls living in when he first settled in Tulsa and before he got married - when that area south of the city was considered a safe place where kids played in the streets, not the hotbed of criminal activity it’s become today.

“Today, I’m very leery of letting my kids drive (in that) area,” the 52-year-old Crain said in an interview this week. “That is the example of the creeping violence. We are seeing gang violence and that violent crime is slowly but continually expanding into the community.”

Crain says he’ll devote more manpower to prosecuting violent crimes and heading off a brain drain that’s seen some promising attorneys leave for private practice.

“We want to tell you that we’ll get you in front of a jury in six to eight months,” said Crain, who worked in the Tulsa DA’s office from 1996-1998 before entering private practice.

Jordan, 40, a former judge advocate with the U.S. Marine Corps, wants to give his assistant DAs more of a stake in the cases they’re assigned, empowering them to make decisions. He says too often a different attorney initially gets a case; another files the charges, another appears at the preliminary hearing, and so on.

“At the end of the day, witnesses may have to deal with multiple (attorneys), and you have no sense of ownership,” Jordan said.

Kunzweiler, 51, says he’s uniquely positioned to become DA because he’s prosecuted a litany of cases in two-plus decades of work, including triple and quadruple homicides, and worked closely with assistant district attorneys, judges and the court system to get violent offenders off the streets.

“It’s a calling; it’s a passion of mine and I enjoy the work,” he said. “I know how important it is fighting for public safety and upholding the rule of law,” he said.

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