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Human Rights Watch released scathing report on Tulsa’s policing issue

Citizens of Tulsa seated during the second of three Town Hall listening input sessions organized by Mayor G.T. Bynum to help select a new Chief of Police. Date and Location: Wednesday, January 9, 2020, at the Rudisill Regional Library. | Photograph by Nehemiah D. Frank 

Published 01/08/2020 | Reading Time 3 min 34 sec 

By Daniel Rogers, Senior Writer 

TULSA, Okla. — Human Rights Watch, an organization founded for the study and reporting of abuse across the world, released a scathing report just before the end of the year on the Tulsa Police Department. The study found what community members and leaders have been saying for a long time. There are racial disparities in the Tulsa Police Department that have only been exacerbated by crippling policies and a lack of motivation for any type of meaningful reform. 

Key Takeaways From The Report

Data provided by the Tulsa Department showed from 2014 to 2017, one predominately black (80%) neighborhood in North Tulsa experienced an annual average of 227 stops per 1,000 people; in contrast, a neighborhood in West Tulsa, 77% white but also with a low median income, had a stop rate of 50 per 1,000 people. And in South Tulsa, almost entirely white, had virtually no such stops by police: one experienced only 2 stops per 1,000 people over the same period, and another only 6 stops. Analysis of the data shows that “black people live in greater concentrations in the census tracts, which had the highest rates of recorded detentions.”

Laws requiring courts to consider someone’s economic situation lack strong standards and do little to stem the devastation. People arrested or cited for violations are assessed a vast array of fees, fines, and costs by the courts that process their cases. This debt, weighing disproportionately on the poorest segment of society, is enforced aggressively by Tulsa Police, who regularly arrest people on warrants for failure to pay the debt owed as a result of past violations including for minor offenses.

In 38% of arrests, the most severe charge the person was arrested for was a warrant and many of them “failure to pay” from previous cases. 

The problem is people arrested for “failure to pay” must often pay bail to get out of jail or risk losing their jobs, which can result in an inability to pay the costs of rent, child-care, and other essentials, in addition to the original amount owed and the court assessed fees, fines, and costs, in turn, getting caught in a cycle of debt they often cannot escape; arrest, jail, debt, warrant, arrest, jail, and further debt. 

Despite the rise in fees, fines, and costs, studies have shown limited increases in revenue collection.

The Tulsa Police Department has a policy that it will not enforce federal immigration laws. In a variety of ways, however, the police department continues to fail the immigrant community. Officers are required to inquire about an arrestees’ immigration status and advise the Sheriff’s Department if they are undocumented. 

The Sheriff Department has a contract with ICE under section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act that places ICE agents in the jail and pays the Sheriff’s Department to house immigrants detained for deportation proceedings. When Tulsa officers advise the Sheriff’s Department that a person in their custody is undocumented, the people identified can be detained after their criminal charges are resolved and put in deportation proceedings.

Despite recruitment efforts, the Tulsa Police Department does not have sufficient numbers of Spanish-speaking officers to address the community’s needs. Some officers are unable to understand people they attempt to interview during calls. There are reports that this inability to understand has led to calls being ignored or arrests of the wrong person.

Residents reported that officers often responded inappropriately to people amid mental health crises, including using aggressive and commanding tactics that escalated the situations. 

Some people said they wouldn’t call the police to respond to a loved one in crisis in fear the police would harm them.

The City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Police Department are exploring options to promote more appropriate services, including participating in a pilot program that puts a paramedic, a social worker, and an officer with specialized mental health training together in a car to respond to mental health-related calls. 

The Tulsa Police Department currently only deploys this team for two shifts a week.

Of 3,364 distinct “non-deadly” force actions reported by police from 2012-2017, the Tulsa Police Department found only two forceful acts that were not within policy and imposed no discipline in either case.

While many policymakers say that the Tulsa Police Department needs to be transformed into one that engages effectively with the community and has its trust, there has been little done in the way of police reform. The Tulsa Police Department is vastly under-equipped to handle the majority of calls concerning mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness. 

Over one-third of the city’s general fund goes to the police department, whose budget continues to grow. The city recently approved an additional sales tax to pay for a major expansion of the police department. 

But what is the most significant change since the killing of Terrance Crutcher in 2016? The addition of 160 more officers. Without fundamental reforms, and much-needed resources for affordable housing, drug treatment, and support for people with mental health conditions, one should expect the same type of racial disparities and policing resulting in more use-of-force incidents, more stops and citations, and more debt and debt enforcement.

With Mayor Bynum holding interviews for the new Chief of Police, the public safety and service of Tulsa’s most vulnerable communities affected by regressive policing must be put at the forefront.


0Daniel Rogers is committed to objectivity and fact-based reporting that speak truth to power, holds our representatives and public officials accountable, and bring awareness of a corrupt and broken system in need of repair. Daniel’s biggest influence is his aunt, Joyce Ann Rogers, who was an honoree and award recipient of multiple human rights organizations for her activism in the Tulsa community and a leading member of the NAACP. When not contributing to the Black Wall Street Times, Daniel is a freelance audio engineer and co-founder of The Lab Recordings est. 2010. Daniel is an Oklahoma native who graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and a strong believer that one must be the change they want to see in the world.

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