by Staff Writer Britni Sharde
“We don’t need a show. We need a police chief that will take servicing our community seriously,” a demand rightly expressed by North Tulsa native and executive editor of the Tulsa Star, Timantha Norman. Mayor GT Bynum has an opportunity to remove himself from his comfort zone of political expediency by including the community that will be affected by the new police chief in a way that is honorable, in a process that does not demean the community’s intellect, and in a way that truly repairs the trust that has been fractured between law enforcement and the North Tulsa community. Earlier this week, the City of Tulsa attempted to superficially offer the opportunity for community members to participate in speaking with the four internal finalists for the position of Tulsa’s next police chief.
Many questions asked by community members to the candidates were reasonably sound and aimed at helping the public better understand the hearts and minds of each candidate specifically as it relates to issues of justice and racial disparities in policing happening in Tulsa. These questions included, but were not limited to, “Do you agree that public safety must be defined by the community?,” ”Do you agree that it is the role of the police chief to bridge the gap between the police and Black and Brown communities?,” ”How will you address the racial disparities found in the Tulsa Equality Indicators report?,” or “How should TPD officers respond to a person who is in crisis due to substance use or a behavioral or mental disability?” in an effort to adequately evaluate each candidate’s viability and whether they will be an asset to the progression of Tulsa’s populace. The answers that community members received from this group of finalists for the top position in TPD, in addition to undesirable behavior and comments made during the course of their careers, are less than ideal for the individual that will be charged with being the city’s next police chief.
Jonathan Brooks, deputy chief and commissioner for the state of Oklahoma’s Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission, has been quite vocal about the findings of the Tulsa Equality Indicators. Although he recognized and acknowledged the racial disparities and the need for better community policing, he has provided very vague responses to questions surrounding solutions that TPD should implement moving forward. He mentioned that the Human Rights Watch report around policing practices in Tulsa was “misguided” and that the Use of Force Report from the University of Texas at Houston was valid and the issue itself was very complex. Eric Dalgleish, a 24 year TPD veteran and deputy chief of the department’s Administrative Bureau, has been a vocal opponent of civil asset forfeiture reforms that would ultimately place limitations on the authority of police to seize assets. Dalgleish appears to be opposed to increased accountability and changing the FOP contract. He’s stated his concerns around officers not being able to clear their name when accused of misconduct. He characterized those who make allegations against officers as people “with something to gain.” That is such a disrespectful approach for an ideal chief of police to take when his job is to protect the interests of the public at large. There is also Dennis Larson, the operations deputy chief of the patrol divisions and the Special Operations Division, has shown himself to be silent on issues that matter to the public. There is no record of his stance on the issue of racial disparities or injustices experienced by the community, but there is the silence, which speaks volumes.
Wendell Franklin, the only black finalist for the police chief role and a 20 year veteran with the Tulsa Police Department, opposed the approval of the consent decree between Black TPD officers and the City of Tulsa that resulted from a lawsuit centered around oppressive working conditions being experienced by black police officers within TPD. This suit was initiated in 1994 and was ultimately approved over Franklin’s objections. The consent decree has since ended. Franklin contested that the allegations of race discrimination were untrue and could not be proven. The consent decree included policies and practices that are already in place within TPD, but the opt-out procedures from the class action suit were unfairly presented. In an effort to pander to the North Tulsa community, it is quite obvious that our mayor may actually choose Mr. Franklin as the city’s next police chief because he is black alone without regard for what the community as a whole wants from the next person in this position. However, if Franklin is incapable of acknowledging the racial disparities in local policing that have been clearly proven through multiple modes of data and statistics, then he is, essentially, a liability to the North Tulsa community.
An unfortunate decision expected to bridge a wide chasm of mistrust will only grow wider if Mayor Bynum doesn’t find the ability to do what is morally right but politically difficult in seeking justice for all in North Tulsa and all over our city. Ideally, it’d benefit the community to have someone that is from the Tulsa, even from the North Tulsa area as our next police chief. However, the public deserves an alternative strategy (i.e. expanding the search nationally) if no viable candidate can be found from within the department, which, at this point, is a strong possibility. Over the decades, the community has experienced so much turmoil due to an ongoing culture of mistreatment and oppression from those that swore to “protect and serve” them. Restoring trust between the community and TPD would create a much needed congruity for the sake of our city as a whole. Three of the four candidates have made questionable remarks about the community they are supposed to be passionately protecting should they receive the honor of being our next police chief. We as a city are at the precipice of changing the trajectory of the relationship between police and the North Tulsa community based solely on Mayor Bynum’s decision. Tulsans deserve a courageous choice being made when it comes to our next chief of police, which should result in a chief who will challenge the current status quo, hold officers accountable for excessive force and discriminatory policing, and create a culture of respect and collaboration with the community.
Illustration: Patrick Norman