By Guest Writer Hailey Ferguson
In December 2016, Mayor GT Bynum created the Office of Performance Strategy and Innovation to create government and police transparency. The Office of Performance Strategy and Innovation has a community dashboard cam where citizens can track various “opportunities available for residents and businesses in Tulsa,” and it also includes the community policing dashboard comprising of the recommendations from the Tulsa Commission on Community Policing.
After Betty Shelby’s trial, Mayor Bynum stated that Tulsans must acknowledge racial disparities within the city, and they must act to implement changes. Mayor Bynum claims that his acknowledgment and actions to address racial disparities are the 77 recommendations from the Tulsa Commission on Community Policing. Furthermore, Mayor Bynum promised citizens that efforts would be made on each of the 77 recommendations by the end of 2017, but many social justice organizations and activists believe that the mayor has not kept his word.
Many social justice organizations and activists believe that the mayor has not kept his word.
In November 2017, The United League for Social Action (TULSA) reviewed the 77 recommendations in detail and found that it is very difficult to verify and measure most of the recommendations. Furthermore, TULSA claims that the framing and phrasing of the recommendations utilized the word “should” 79 times across 77 recommendations, with few details on who is responsible and avenues to accomplish these recommendations. Finally, TULSA found that there is little to no evidence on the implementation of new policies. The most notable example of this being the policy provided for body cameras in the dashboard, found on page 318 of the Public Policy Manual, is an older policy for Mobile Vehicle Recording Systems. This policy does not include worn body cameras, and worn body cameras are not mentioned in the Public Policy Manual.
TULSA found that there is little to no evidence on the implementation of new policies.
If one looks at the community policing dashboard, they might feel very confused at the ambiguity of the so-called actions that have been made concerning the 77 recommendations on community policing. Under the first recommendation, the guardian mindset culture, the community policing dashboard claims that the Tulsa Police Department (TPD) is providing further transparency, engaging with the community in a novel way, working on community policing efforts in the Kendall-Whitter neighborhood, and wearing body cameras, among other actions. The actions listed under this recommendation are difficult to verify, and according to the community policing dashboard, this recommendation is being fully implemented on an ongoing basis.
Furthermore, the Community Policing Task Force asserts that they have purchased 450 body cameras for officers, and they are doing field training with them, but it does not specify when officers will be required to wear the body cameras on the job. If one continues to read through the 77 recommendations and the actions being made by the TPD to implement the actions, they will most likely have more questions than answers.
Citizens are crying out for better policing practices across the city. On Thursday, December 28, 2017, the Terence Crutcher Foundation hosted a community town hall meeting at the 36th Street North Event Center. The evening was filled with speakers advocating for change in policies and police-officer relations with north Tulsa residents. Dr. Tiffany Crutcher was poised, eloquent, and calm whenever she spoke at the town hall. She recounted how she and her family have been treated since her brother, Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by Betty Shelby, and the subsequent trial, and she spoke of community relations with TPD and the goals of the Terence Crutcher Foundation. At the end of the town hall meeting, the audience viewed a video from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) addressing statements that District One’s city councilor, Vanessa Hall-Harper made against TPD and Betty Shelby. Hall-Harper claimed that the FOP participates in a culture of corruption, and she refused to back down whenever she was questioned about her comments. The FOP member in the video stated that he did not understand why Mrs. Hall-Harper holds those beliefs, and that is one of the biggest problems dividing the police and the FOP from the community.
Often police officers in Tulsa lack cultural competency and communication skills that would allow them to relate to the community in a real and authentic way. The FOP member in the video shown at the town hall claimed that he and the FOP were proud that they made videos explaining Betty Shelby’s “situation” and supporting her regardless of the verdict in Terence Crutcher’s case. He also stated that the FOP would support other officers in Betty Shelby’s situation, and they would do whatever is necessary to get officers home to their families. The video ends with a veiled threat, claiming that the FOP has a very long memory, and all FOP members should be aware of Mrs. Hall-Harper’s statements for whenever the “next season comes around.” The statements made by this gentleman clearly shows the divide between the police and the community. Declaring that the FOP has a long memory and that they will do whatever it takes to get officers home to their families fosters an environment of community mistrust and the notion of police officers being above the law.
Police officers in Tulsa lack cultural competency and communication skills that would allow them to relate to the community in a real and authentic way.
If the Mayor truly wishes to correct police missteps and improve community interactions with the police in 2018, he must address the police officer culture of “us versus them.” There are many who believe that the community is the driving force behind the divisive mentality of citizens versus the police, but the inaction on the 77 community policing recommendations, videos supporting Betty Shelby during the trial posted by the FOP, and videos threatening District One and Vanessa Hall-Harper show that police officers further this divide by not attempting to correct their mistakes or relate to citizens in a meaningful way.
The mayor declared that all 77 recommendations for community policing would be met by the end of 2017, but according to the community policing dashboard, only 51% of the recommendations are being implemented. As TULSA’s review shows, one cannot truly verify or measure if the recommendations are being implemented, but even by the city of Tulsa’s own recording, the Mayor did not keep his word on community policing and improving the racial divide in Tulsa. If the Mayor truly desires to lessen the divide and foster an environment of unity between citizens and police, he must address the culture of superiority that exists within the Fraternal Order of Police, work with citizens to implement community policing, and he must openly condemn wrongdoing and racism that is present within TPD.
Hailey Ferguson is a guest contributor for the Black Wall St. Times and is a pround ally for People of Color, an advocate for Women’s Rights, and is a member of Aware Tulsa‘s Vision Team. She currently studies Social Work at Northern Eastern State University.