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The first thing Tulsa citizens noticed upon entering Hardesty Library for the first of three town halls on the selection of Tulsa’s next Chief of Police, were the signs stating that guns were not allowed, despite Oklahoma law permitting open and concealed weapon carry as of November 2019. The second unusual aspect of the public meeting with Mayor GT Bynum and Karen Gilbert, Executive Director of Tulsa Crime Stoppers, were the metal detectors placed in the lobby of the library, through which each member of the crowd passed before entering the community room.

Mayor Bynum began by thanking citizens for showing up to give input on the selection of the next Chief of Police. He reminded the crowd that the last police chief had served for over a decade and that he hoped the next Chief of Police would serve Tulsa for even longer. 

Following a short speech touting the benefits of “community policing” to empower both citizens and law enforcement to make Tulsa safer, Mayor Bynum spoke about the positive changes Tulsa has made in its Police department’s initiatives since 2016. 

Currently, all Tulsa Police Department (TPD) officers in the field use body cameras, and the entire department receives 4 hours of implicit bias training. The new municipal justice center allows Tulsa citizens who are accused of “low-level crimes” such as public intoxication, to be processed and released more quickly than in the past, and the new “sobering center” which is partnered with 12&12 substance abuse treatment center, allows law enforcement to address the “root cause” of such crimes. 

Mayor Bynum followed up with mentioning the strength of the 7 internal candidates for Chief of Police from within Tulsa Police Department (TPD), who he stated are all committed to making Tulsa safer. He then mentioned his top criteria for selecting a Chief of Police: engaging in community policing, a commitment to responsible financial management, and interest in innovations that will take Tulsa policing into the next decade and beyond. 

Mayor Bynum then opened the Town Hall to the audience. Most citizens who went to the microphone addressed the two glaring issues that had not yet been mentioned: the role of racism in policing Tulsa citizens, and the lack of training in de-escalation for Tulsa police officers. 

A group of women in orange vests who referred to themselves as “Suicide Moms” – women who had all lost a family member to suicide – reminded the crowd that the Tulsa police Crisis Response Team, a group of law enforcement officers who are trained in de-escalating emergencies related to mental illness, currently does not operate 24 hours per day, nor every day of the year. The suicide moms also stated that law enforcement officers need extra resilience training to prevent their own secondary trauma or PTSD.

Shelley Cadamy, who stated she is a mother of three children of color, pleaded that the new Chief of Police promotes a culture of “restorative justice rather than punitive punishment,” for all Tulsa citizens. Other attendees spoke of the need to have “the talk” with young people of color in Tulsa — due to the adults’ experiences with bias displayed by TPD.  

Still, other Tulsa citizens requested transparency in the process of choosing a new Chief of Police. 

With Tulsa still using the controversial 287 (g) ICE program, one attendee mentioned Latinx citizens’ fears of being stopped for low-level crimes that may land them in the Tulsa ICE detention center at David L Moss jail. Another young man, Colby Webster, who stated he lives in District 4, mentioned repeatedly he is “tired of advocating for (my) life,” and specifically referred to the Tulsa police department’s internal culture of racism. Yet another audience member requested that Tulsa law enforcement officers remember their oath to protect and serve rather than simply use their badges and power to threaten and punish local citizens. 

The crowd clapped, cheered, and overwhelmingly supported each citizen and group who went to the microphone. Some citizens hugged each other and cried following their turns. The Hardesty meeting was attended by several city council members, including local District 7 councilwoman Lori Decter Wright. Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, whose twin brother Terrance was killed by a Tulsa police officer, was also in the audience, along with Kojo Asamoa-Caesar — a democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in Oklahoma’s 1st Congressional District 1. 

The next Town Hall on the selection of the future Tulsa Chief of Police will be held at Rudisill Library on Wednesday, January 8, at 6:00 p.m., followed by a Thursday, January 9, Town Hall meeting at 6:00 p.m. at OU Tulsa.

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...