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One Year Later: Tulsans still waiting on policing reforms promised last June

by Nate Morris
tulsa police

Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin speaks prior to the release of a video of two Tulsa Police Officers being shot during a news conference Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. The video shows the shooting of Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson and Tulsa Police Officer Aurash Zarkeshan. Johnson later died from his injuries. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)

Last June, following 48 hours of protests across the city in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum sat down with activists calling for reform.

In a closed door meeting that lasted more than three hours, the mayor, the police chief and several other city officials sat with dozens of community leaders in the city council chamber.

The community members had four clear demands:

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  • The establishment of a community-led policing oversight board
  • Drastically enhanced investment in mental health services and officer training
  • The city settles the lawsuit for the Crutcher family
  • The city ends its contract with the LIVE PD program

One of the community leaders in the room, Greg Robinson, asked the mayor and the police chief to stop seeing activists “as the enemy”.  Robinson and others stressed the need for city officials to lean on the community in their decision-making process. 

Unfulfilled promises

When the meeting ended, Mayor Bynum stood alongside protestors and agreed to work toward accomplishing their calls for change.

More than one year later, the community is still waiting for the reforms promised. 

The mayor scrapped plans for policing oversight after pushback from the FOP and lack of consensus on the council.  Funding for an oversight committee was not allocated in the proposed 2022 budget.

A pilot mental health crisis response team will have its operation extended from three days a week to five. Yet, while progress has been made, the program still falls short of a full-time alternative solution.

The Crutcher family’s case against the city still remains in litigation and the A&E Network chose to cancel the LIVE PD show entirely in the wake of last summer’s uprisings.

New national police scorecard provides critical data for reform efforts

The anniversary of the meetings come as Tulsa remains in the national spotlight following the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Calls for both reform and reparations continue to grow louder with each passing day.

All of this comes on top of a new national report highlighting policing practices in 500 cities across the country. The Police Scorecard is the “first nationwide public evaluation of policing in the United States”, reviewing data from “over 16,000 law enforcement agencies”. 

The database is a “culmination of work that started in 2014 after Ferguson,” said Sam Sinyangwe, one of the report’s creators. “It places everything into one place, one source, to compare cities with one another.”

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The report compares municipalities based on population size and scores them on a scale of 0-100%. According to the report, “cities with higher scores spend less on policing, use less force, are more likely to hold officers accountable and make fewer arrests for low-level offenses.”

Sinyangwe said that the scoring is rooted in orienting folks toward a “big picture” look at “the basic standards and principles that should underlay how a system works”.

Law enforcement agencies should be effectively “responding in a way that supports the communities they serve, reducing disparities addressing serious crime”, Sinyangwe told The Black Wall Street Times.  And, he said, they should be doing all of this without costing taxpayers “an extreme amount of money.”

After years of research and piloting, the database set these standards in order to measure progress nationwide.

Tulsa’s data shows the need for reform is great

Tulsa, according to the report, has a significant amount of progress to make. The city received a score of just 38% overall, the lowest of Oklahoma’s ten largest cities. 

Using data from the past decade, Tulsa received its lowest marks in the categories of police violence and police accountability. According to the report, while police-involved shootings have decreased over the last five years, Tulsa’s rate of using higher levels of use-of-force (firearm, taser, baton, stranglehold, OC spray, etc.) during arrests is higher than 92% of departments studied.

The significant amount of police violence in Oklahoma surprised even Sinyangwe. 

“Oklahoma is a huge outlier in terms of the level of police violence. At the state level, Oklahoma has the third-highest in the country,” he said. “And Oklahoma City and Tulsa both have some of the highest in any city in the country.”

The report also found that just 2% of nearly 1100 civilian complaints filed between 2016-2018 resulted in a “sustained finding of misconduct”. 

The city did score slightly higher marks in the percentage of homicides solved, outperforming 63% of other departments studied.

Efforts for reform continue

The Tulsa Police Department and the city recently partnered with an outside organization to conduct a community listening effort. The effort has focused on convening a small group of citizens rather than hosting public meetings. 

The group, composed of a handful of community members, will conduct interviews and conversations over the course of several months.  Their goal will then be to provide a set of recommendations to the department. How the department will implement these recommendations remains to be seen.

As this group convenes, calls for reform persist in the year since the meeting with the mayor. Tulsans from across the city have been engaging in the public comment process at council meetings ahead of the 2021-22 budget’s approval. Last Wednesday, as dozens of Tulsans spoke in support of reparations, several community members who lost a child or partner to suicide called for expanded funding of a mental health crisis response team. 

Tulsa budget talks amplify calls for more funding for mental health crisis response

Many of the callers thanked the mayor and council for expanding the program from three days to five, but also asked for its full-time implementation.

According to one caller, “24/7 CRTs are now recognized as best practices for communities according to federal government guidelines. Reducing interactions between law enforcement and individuals with severe psychiatric diseases represents the most effective strategy in reducing police shootings.”

When asked what Tulsans could push for, Sinyangwe immediately named the need for mental health crisis support and alternatives to arrests.

“One of the biggest things is pushing for alternatives to low level, non violent responses,” he said. “The vast majority of arrests tend to be for low-level, non-violent offenses.”

“Create alternatives to arrests and alternatives to being stopped at all by police,” Sinyangwe urged. “Invest in a different type of response.”

The third public hearing on the budget takes place at Wednesday’s 5:00 p.m. city council meeting. The council will also hear policy recommendations from the Equality Indicators Trust and Accountability Working Group on Wednesday afternoon.

2 comments

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