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GREENWOOD Dist. — On Monday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill that would require the majority of police review board members in the state to have a law enforcement background. Surprisingly, two Democrats voted along with Republicans to send it to the state Senate.
HB 2161 requires that “when a government entity establishes a citizen review board to investigate misconduct by a law enforcement officer, at least 2/3rds of the board that makes a recommendation or imposes disciplinary action must be composed of CLEET certified law enforcement officers.”
The bill’s supporters say citizen review boards are too focused on “social justice’ and need more police perspectives, and critics of the measure say it will further dissolve community trust and accountability.
Notably, several Republicans sided with Democrats in voting down the measure. After a vote of 54-36, it now moves to the state Senate. It’s unclear what the need would be for a police review board filled with police officers when departments already have fully staffed internal review boards.
Democratic lawmakers from Tulsa were divided on the bill. Reps. Monroe Nichols (D-72) and Regina Goodwin (D-73), Tulsa’s two Black state House lawmakers, voted against the bill. Meanwhile, Reps. Suzanne Schreiber (D-70) and Meloyde Blancett (D-78), two of Tulsa’s White legislators, voted in favor.
Democrat defends vote for more police power on review boards
In an email to The Black Wall Street Times, newly elected state Rep. Suzanne Schreiber defended her decision.
“My thought was something like this would be better than nothing and could possibly break the dam to getting a review board going [in Tulsa],” Rep. Schreiber told The Black Wall Street Times.
Rep. Schreiber said she didn’t hear from police officers or community members ahead of her vote.
“Other review boards for professional misconduct, such as lawyers, doctors, teachers, accountants, professors almost always involve a majority of individuals in those professions to know if someone is doing something outside the ethics, training, conduct,” Schreiber told TheBWSTimes. “You need people in that same profession evaluating.
Community advocates have been pushing for independent oversight for years
Ever since the police murder of unarmed Terence Crutcher in 2016 by disgraced former Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby, advocates have been pushing for independent oversight.
Despite being cleared by a jury, that same jury also recommended Betty Shelby never serve in law enforcement again. Yet, she simply moved one county over, instructing other officers on “how to survive” the aftermath of a police shooting.
For years community members in and outside Historic Greenwood District have been pushing for an Office of the Independent Monitor, a police review board with the power to recommend discipline of officer misconduct. Yet the plan was scrapped last year in a failed 7-2 vote after advocates refused to settle for a board with no power.
The police murder of George Floyd lit a fire under communities like Tulsa, which attempted to restart efforts to approve independent oversight. Yet ever since activists led a peaceful march to Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum’s home, city officials have shown no desire to approve such oversight.
Other legislators rebuke vote to give police majority power on review boards
Meanwhile, Reps. Monroe Nichols, the son of a police officer and Regina Goodwin, a descendant of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre survivors, blasted the bill in no uncertain terms.
“If we had a community legislative advisory board but there was two-thirds of us on there, people would tell us to go kick rocks, and they would be smart to do so,” Nichols said, Public Radio Tulsa reported.
“People talk about government overreach. You don’t trust the government, but you want to put two-thirds of people from the government on a community advisory board. Makes no sense to me,” he added.
Rep Goodwin offered a similar rebuke.
“If there’s an officer charged with misconduct, let’s let all the officers determine his fate. Let’s let them make the recommendations. Why does that make sense? In whose head, in whose House, in whose universe?” said Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa).
HB 2161 was authored by Rep. Ross Ford (R-Broken Arrow), a former Tulsa Police officer who represents a conservative suburb of Tulsa.
“We’re not getting the ones who are truly wanting to make the community safer and better. They’re looking for social justice,” Ford said, denigrating the very community members who’ve faced violence or the loss of loved ones at the hands of police.
In an interview with KTUL, Ford admitted his intention was to get ahead of any attempts for civilians to hold oversight over the police.
“What I want to make sure is that we are doing it the proper way and that the officer is receiving his due process,” said Ford.
Meanwhile, City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper signaled that a police review board in Tulsa was already unlikely to form.
“There has been no progress on this effort. In a nutshell, unless the Mayor revisits and implements police oversight it will never happen,” Hall-Harper told KTUL.