North Tulsa leaders and Tulsa Police hope for better relationship
BY ZACK STOYCOFF World Staff Writer
Sunday, April 29, 2012
12/28/12 at 8:54 AM
Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan caught the Rev. Anthony Scott's ear when he vowed to find anyone responsible for the April 6 shootings that killed three and injured two.
He called the victims Tulsans, not north Tulsans, Scott noticed.
"Many might have missed that, but it was important to the citizens of north Tulsa," said Scott, pastor of First Baptist Church North Tulsa. "That statement really broke down, for me, some geographical boundaries."
In the next two days, residents responded in droves to Jordan's calls for the public's help.
Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 33, were arrested at 1:45 a.m. April 8 - about 48 hours after the first shooting victim was found - thanks to dozens of tips that came exclusively from north of Admiral Boulevard, authorities said.
North Tulsa leaders said it was the first time in years that the Tulsa Police Department and the predominantly black neighborhoods in the area worked together on such a scale.
Now they are urging residents to put aside decades of tension with law enforcement and continue the momentum - even if it takes time.
"There's this stigma that has been around for a very long time that the police department is not a friend of the community," said City Councilor Jack Henderson, whose district between downtown Tulsa and Turley includes all four sites of the April 6 shootings. "I think this is an opportunity to throw that out the back door."
Long way to go
Celisse Davis looked out her window at Comanche Park Apartments and remembered which of her neighbors have had shootings, burglaries and drug deals since she moved there five years ago.
There have been many. Some were afraid to report the crimes. When they did, police didn't necessarily do much, she said.
"You don't have a lot of camaraderie between us and the police officers because of failed efforts to get assistance from them in the past," she said. "It's almost like residents say, 'Well, (calling police) didn't work last time, so I won't try this time.'"
Comanche Park Apartments, a public housing complex at 3608 N. Quaker Ave., is where England witnessed his father's fatal shooting in 2010, England's friends have said.
Police had recorded 28 crimes at the complex this year as of Friday, but Davis believes that residents are reporting only a fraction of them.
And they aren't the only north Tulsans who aren't reporting crimes, said Davis, who says she's always lived in the area.
"I, myself, was very proud of the police work they did involving the Good Friday shootings," she said. "But there's still a lot of things going on in north Tulsa that don't make the national news - unsolved crimes that would be reported if police would do a little investigating."
She paused and added, "there's just no respect" for city officials and police in north Tulsa.
When Officer Linton Wilson was transferred from the Tulsa Police Department's Riverside Division to its Gilcrease Division - from south to north Tulsa - he immediately noticed a difference in attitudes toward police.
"A little more unfriendly," he said. "A little apprehensive sometimes. A lot of them, they've always felt that way.
"The kids, they look at you, they see us in their households so many times taking their mommy or their daddy. They don't like that."
Wilson was driving his patrol car near his own north Tulsa neighborhood one day when he waved to a small boy walking with an older relative.
"I said, 'Hi little buddy,'" Wilson said. "He looked at his relative first and then looked at me, like asking, 'Should I wave to him?'"
Negative views of police tend to stem from misunderstandings, which seem to be more common in the north than in the south, he said.
"A lot of them have no idea how the system works and they think their problems are going to be solved right away," he said. "I take the time to explain to them what is going to happen after I take this report, and they say, 'Oh, OK,' and they are a lot more satisfied."
Eddie Evans heads the Youth Services of Tulsa's north branch, where many clients are teenagers who "have their own perception of what goes on" with police, he said.
"We're not there when police stop them, so we listen to their stories, hear their side of it," he said, adding that it's apparent some have no desire to work with police.
But he believes those feelings aren't unique to north Tulsa.
"There are those types of problems in police-community relations everywhere because of perceptions of what should happen when a police officer stops them or arrests them," he said.
A different city
Marvin Blades, who retired five years ago after 31 years with Tulsa Police and heads the local chapter of 100 Black Men, describes north Tulsa's relationship with police as "a typical minority-police relationship" that is similar to those in other cities.
He said residents either feel that police don't care about them - a natural reaction for crime victims who want immediate justice - or that they live in "occupied territory" because they think there are too many police.
Blades said his police career showed him that every area of the city is patrolled evenly but that historically higher crime rates in north Tulsa make police more visible there.
Accusations in 2003 of racial profiling by Tulsa police stirred a new level of distrust and started a legal battle that continued until 2010.
Although an independent auditor found in 2006 that any racial disparities in arrests and use of force were "the result of a host of social and economic conditions," not bias, the ordeal further alienated north Tulsans, particularly blacks, leaders and residents said.
Seventy-six percent of Tulsa police officers are white and 10 percent are black, and police have said that they are striving to match the city's racial makeup of about 68 percent white and 16 percent black.
But north Tulsa is 47 percent black and 37 percent white, census data show. About 30 percent of those blacks live in poverty compared to the citywide average of 20 percent for all races and 16 percent for whites citywide.
Racial and economic differences continue to fuel the perception that police - and the rest of the city - view north Tulsa differently, area leaders and residents said.
"Even those who are law-abiding citizens feel as though they're carrying around a stigma on their address because they live in north Tulsa," Scott said, adding that is why he felt Jordan's comments were so important.
"His saying 'citizens of Tulsa' as opposed to saying 'citizens of north Tulsa' in my opinion made a great step towards building a bridge of trust again between the police department and north Tulsa," he said.
The statements reassured north Tulsans that police know they're sworn to protect everyone equally, he said.
Maj. Walter Evans, who heads the Detective Division and is the highest-ranking black officer in the police department, said police work closely with north Tulsa neighborhoods and value their relationship with area residents as much as in other areas of the city.
"It's kind of unnerving for some to see such a heavy police presence in their neighborhood, and I get that," he said, noting that lower-income areas tend to have more crime and, therefore, more police.
But after the police response to the April 6 shootings, "I hope people will realize that the police want the same thing they want: justice," he said.
"We want a safe community. They want a safe community. We're on the same team."
Police said they had no leads in the April 6 shootings until about 8 a.m. the next day, when residents began calling the Tulsa Crime Commission's anonymous tip line to report that England was the shooter.
A 30-member task force composed of Tulsa police, the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI arrested England and Watts near their Turley home about 13 hours later.
"This is a perfect example of residents helping police because we literally did not know what we had other than African Americans were getting shot," Gilcrease Division Capt. Steve Odom said.
"If (residents) just realize, whether it's homicides, air-conditioner thefts, trailer thefts - you name it - if you step up and tell us, 99 times out of 100 we can connect the dots and make a case."
The public's tips after the shootings reaffirmed north Tulsa's trust in police and showed that they have a strong relationship with police, he said.
But area leaders and police agree that it must continue.
"This will give us common ground and something to build on," the Rev. Warren Blakney, president of NAACP's Tulsa Chapter, said after the arrests.
Scott said it's important now to focus on the future.
"I hope police would have an ear more for listening to the citizens of north Tulsa and that the citizens would understand that our community becomes a safer place when we trust law enforcement and certainly, if we have information, we have to report it," he said.
World Staff Writer Curtis Killman contributed to this story.
Check back at tulsaworld.com for more updates. Find complete coverage at tulsaworld.com/shootings.
Original Print Headline: Chance for reconciliation
Zack Stoycoff, 918-581-8486
Tulsa Police Officer Linton Wilson takes a statement from Keri Hardiman at Comanche Park Apartments. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Tulsa Police Officer Linton Wilson talks with Preston, 5, at Comanche Park Apartments on Thursday. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World