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Posted on: February 6, 2024

CCSO PARTNERS WITH BNSF TO ASSIST WITH RISING SAFETY CONCERNS

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[Norman, Okla.] — In January, the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) officially partnered with BNSF Railway in a cooperative agreement, which will allow county deputies to enforce laws on railroad property.

This partnership, a common practice in numerous Oklahoma counties, grants permission to CCSO deputies to enter BNSF property, and authorizes them to enforce grade crossing and trespassing laws through arrest, citation, or other lawful means.

BNSF Senior Special Agent Ebony Harris said collaborating with CCSO will increase safety in the area, especially as the number of trespassers and encampments near railway property continue to increase.

“I receive a high call volume in Norman and Moore regarding trespassers, encampments and grade crossing collisions,” Harris said. “Having a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office would be tremendously helpful in their efforts to enforce trespassing laws and railroad crossing violations. Partnering with the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office is a huge benefit for BNSF Railway. We want to continue to ensure a safe working environment for our employees, our customers and the citizens of Cleveland County.”

CCSO’s Community Response Unit (CRU) reached out to BNSF upon detecting a rise in problems around railroad tracks. Particularly, the surge in homeless encampments in and around Norman has triggered ancillary issues like littering, accumulation of drug paraphernalia and pornographic materials in public spaces, and hazardous debris buildup along the railroad tracks. Individuals who trespass or use the tracks as thoroughfares are further compounding safety concerns.

Cleveland County Sheriff Chris Amason emphasized that safety concerns extend to all county residents. He underscored the necessity of proactive, collaborative efforts, such as this agreement, to achieve significant strides in addressing local challenges. 

“There’s a misconception that the increasing homeless crisis in Norman isn’t harmful and that law enforcement is only singling out individuals, but, that’s not the case,” Amason said. “Our duty is to protect everyone, and partnering with BNSF allows us to address crucial safety concerns for all, including the homeless. Encampments near tracks pose significant risks, and our goal is to prioritize everyone’s safety. Additionally, maintaining the cleanliness of county spaces, preventing dangers like exposed needles and trash buildup, ensures unobstructed tracks, which can reduce collision risks.”

In addition to jurisdictional authority, the partnership also provides county deputies access to safety training materials and the “AskRail” tool, which enables first responders to quickly access information regarding the hazardous materials being transported in a railcar, enabling them to make informed decisions in the event of a railway emergency. The agreement will apply to all BNSF railways in Cleveland County. According to BNSF data, Cleveland County has approximately 25 miles of railroad tracks, which stretch across Noble, Norman, Moore, Slaughterville, Newalla, and a small portion of Oklahoma City.

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