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Crime-and-courts
First week as Tulsa police chief is like 'drinking from a firehose'

Mayor G.T. Bynum described Tulsa’s new police chief as the type of person who puts the team before himself, perhaps leaving the impression that Wendell Franklin has a lower profile than he might have otherwise.

“But he’s making up for that the last two weeks. I’m glad he’s not running for mayor,” Bynum joked during a promotion ceremony Friday among family, friends and other officers at the Tulsa Police Department Training Center.

Afterward, Franklin noted how much he’s working to get out into the community at meet-and-greets and other events. Just Friday morning he spoke to Jenks elementary school students.

But the duties of a police chief won’t wait.

“It’s drinking from a firehose,” Franklin said. “Just trying to get caught up to speed on everything that’s in the pipeline. Legal things. Some policy decisions. Any and everything that you can think of that a police department needs or functions administratively, it all continues to run even though that transition takes place.”

Franklin, 43, oversaw a substantial shuffling of the command staff on his first day, from patrol division commanders to investigation units to special operations. The Police Department posted the changes on its Facebook page, along with Franklin’s new role.

Franklin said he merged the public information office and social media into one entity called the Communications Unit to create a more seamless flow of information.

“One part wasn’t talking to the other, so there were opportunities for miscommunication if one is communicating one thing and the other something else,” he said.

During this first month, Franklin said, a large share of his focus will be on orchestrating the annual shift change.

“One of the big things I’ve talked about is the need for us to put more supervisors out into the field to ensure that our officers are properly supervised and they have the necessary tools to do their jobs,” he said. “We’re working on looking at each position within our department — those lieutenant and sergeant positions — and looking to push as many of those out into the field as possible to help shore up that span of control that we have.”

Franklin injected much levity into the proceedings, thanking specific family members and friends for the different roles they played in helping him become Tulsa’s first African American police chief on a permanent basis.

He acknowledged that his grown kids used “voodoo magic” to help persuade him to apply by holding him accountable to what he had preached all their lives: Don’t settle or be second best.

He thanked his “college savvy” sister for help putting together his resume.

“Remember, it’s been 23 years since I’ve had to do a resume,” Franklin said, drawing laughter.

The ceremony came at the end of his first week as the city’s top cop. Bynum quipped that Franklin had a week to “test it out and isn’t giving it back.”

The mayor described the hiring process for police chief as remarkable, with more than 600 residents attending town hall meetings and more than 160 individuals offering opinions to him on the position.

Bynum said Franklin’s love of Tulsa, its people and the Police Department was impressive and that his appreciation for the concept of team was influential.

“That weighed heavily with me because of the talent that’s within the department and wanting a chief who could harness all of that talent that we have in this department to best serve the citizens of Tulsa, and he was clearly the person for this job, given that,” Bynum said.

Franklin emphasized that he can’t do the job alone. At one point he called command staff to the front with him, saying they are behind the scenes lifting him up.

“I am just so happy and thrilled that you have given your support to me and allowed me to lead such a fine department,” Franklin told the audience.


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Gallery: A look at the career of new Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin

Gallery: A look at the career of new Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin

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Black History Month: Hannibal B. Johnson is an authority on Tulsa Race Massacre

Since its release in 1998, the book “Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District” has played a big part in bringing new attention to a subject long ignored.

It also helped establish its author, Tulsa historian Hannibal Johnson, as one of the foremost authorities on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

A member of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, Johnson has written and spoken widely on the history of the Greenwood District and the massacre, during which much of the thriving area was destroyed.

Johnson will follow up his 1998 book with the soon-to-be-released “Black Wall Street 100: An American City Grapples with its Historical Racial Trauma.” The new book will update developments and what has changed in the century since the massacre.

The book is expected to be released in March.


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Sen. Inhofe keeps prodding Corps of Engineers to complete Tulsa levee paperwork

Congress is still waiting for the final paperwork on the Tulsa-West Tulsa levee project, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe reminded the Army Corps of Engineers commanding officer this week.

“I urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers … to take all appropriate measures to review and complete the Chief’s Report for the modernization of the Tulsa-West Tulsa Levee system as soon as practical,” Inhofe wrote to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite. “Timely consideration will ensure the authorization for the construction of this project can be included in any water resources legislation this year.”

Inhofe noted the Corps first described the levee system as “unacceptable” and at “very high risk” of failure more than a decade ago, and he reminded Semonite of last spring’s flooding.

“Any catastrophic failure would have resulted in the flooding of the homes and businesses of thousands of Oklahomans, the Sand Springs Petrochemical Complex (a Superfund site), and major industrial sites including refineries and utility sites—more than $2 billion in public and private infrastructure,” Inhofe wrote.

The signing of the chief’s report is the next-to-last step in getting plans for rebuilding the 70-year-old system before Congress. The report is a summary of the Corps’ findings and recommendations that must be signed by the chief engineer — in this case, Semonite.

Once the report is signed, notification letters are sent to the the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Inhofe has generally been complimentary of Semonite, referring to him as “a real tiger” during a hearing in October.

At the same hearing, Semonite said he had about 25 chief’s reports in the works, including Tulsa’s.

“Where does (Tulsa) rank with the other 24?” Inhofe asked.

“They’re all very, very important, sir,” Semonite replied.

The project is expected to take several years to complete and cost $150-$250 million. In this week’s letter, Inhofe asked the Corps to consider 30-year financing for Tulsa County’s share of the expense, which will be 35 percent of the total.


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Front-runners Buttigieg and Sanders beat back debate attacks

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Democratic presidential front-runners Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg beat back a barrage of attacks during a Friday night debate as rivals raised persistent questions about their ideology and experience, hoping to sow doubts about whether they could defeat President Donald Trump.

Reeling from a weak finish in this week’s Iowa caucuses, former Vice President Joe Biden was a chief aggressor throughout the night. He questioned Sanders’ status as a democratic socialist and said Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, doesn’t have the background to lead in a complicated world. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who is struggling to break into the top tier, echoed those criticisms.

But Sanders and Buttigieg, who essentially tied in Iowa, largely brushed off the broadsides.

“Donald Trump lies all the time,” Sanders said in response to suggestions that Trump would use his self-described identity as a democratic socialist to brand him — and all Democrats — as radical.

Buttigieg sought to turn skepticism of his resume into a positive, portraying himself as a fresh face from outside Washington with experience in dealing with real-life problems and ready to lead a weary nation in a new direction.

“I’m interested in the style of the politics we need to put forward to actually finally turn the page,” Buttigieg said.

Friday marked the eighth and perhaps most consequential debate in the Democratic Party’s yearlong quest for a presidential nominee. The prime-time affair came just four days after Iowa’s chaotic caucuses — and four days before New Hampshire’s primary — with several candidates facing pointed questions about their political survival. While several candidates had strong moments, whether the event would change the trajectory of the campaign was unclear.

Biden was especially explicit about what was at stake for his candidacy during the opening moments, predicting he would “take a hit” in New Hampshire next week before the contest moves into more diverse states where he hopes to perform better.

He faced criticism on stage as someone too steeped in the ways of Washington to represent the change many Democratic voters say they are seeking. He responded by once again aligning himself with former President Barack Obama.

“The politics of the past, I think, were not all that bad,” Biden said. “I don’t know what about the past about Barack Obama and Joe Biden was so bad.”

But Biden had to defend his long record as the candidates sparred over the decision nearly two decades ago to send U.S. troops to Iraq.

Biden acknowledged anew that his vote in favor of the war authorization as a senator was a mistake, while Sanders said his Senate vote against deploying troops was proof of his judgment on national security issues. Buttigieg, who was in college at the time and later served in Afghanistan, said he would have opposed the war, too.

While the debate was heated at times, there were plenty of moments of unity, with candidates aware that Democratic primary voters have little desire to see an all-out intraparty brawl. When a moderator asked Klobuchar to respond to Hillary Clinton’s comments that no one likes Sanders, Biden walked over and gave him a hug. Klobuchar, meanwhile, joked that Sanders is “just fine” and noted times when they had worked together on policy.

A somber Biden was appreciative when Buttigieg defended him and his son, Hunter Biden, against attacks from Trump in the impeachment inquiry.

Warren avoided any direct criticism of her rivals and repeatedly pivoted to her core anti-corruption message. As Biden, Sanders and Klobuchar fought about the best way forward on health care, Warren did not engage, instead speaking broadly about the need to lower prescription drug costs.

Billionaire activist Tom Steyer and New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang, meanwhile, were fighting to prove they belong in the conversation.

Traditionally, the knives come out during this phase in the presidential primary process.

It was the pre-New Hampshire debate four years ago on the Republican side when then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie devastated Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential ambitions with a well-timed take-down. Rubio never recovered, making it easier for Donald Trump to emerge as his party’s presidential nominee.

The stakes were particularly high for Biden, who has played front-runner in virtually every one of the previous seven debates but left Iowa in a distant fourth place. While reporting problems have blunted the impact of the Iowa contest, Biden’s weakness rattled supporters who encouraged him to take an aggressive tack Friday night.

The seven-person field highlighted the evolution of the Democrats’ 2020 nomination fight, which began with more than two dozen candidates and has been effectively whittled down to a handful of top-tier contenders.

There are clear dividing lines based on ideology, age and gender. But just one of the candidates on stage, Yang, was an ethnic minority.

Campaigning in one of the whitest states in the nation, Steyer repeatedly highlighted his support for reparations for African-Americans to make up for the impacts of slavery. His steady focus on race Friday was a reminder that he’s invested heavily in South Carolina, where black voters are expected to play a deciding role and are central to Biden’s strategy for success in later states.

Mike Bloomberg was not onstage Friday night, but the New York billionaire was referenced repeatedly as the candidates took turns bashing the the rich.

The former New York City mayor is bypassing New Hampshire, among the four states that vote this month, in favor of the delegate-rich states that hold primary contests in March and beyond. While no one has ever won the nomination with such a strategy, Bloomberg has caught the attention of establishment-minded Democrats concerned about Biden’s viability and Buttigieg’s thin resume.

Bloomberg is also poised to spend $1 billion on his presidential ambitions.

“I don’t think anyone ought to be able to buy their way into the nomination or be president of the United States,” Warren said in one of her few aggressive moments. “I don’t think any billionaire ought to be able to do it and I don’t think people who suck up to billionaires in order to fund their campaigns ought to do it.”

The candidates now fan out across New Hampshire for a four-day sprint to the state’s first-in-the-nation primary election.

While seven candidates survived Iowa’s caucuses, due in part to a cloud of confusion over the results, few expect New Hampshire to offer as many candidates a chance to move onto the gantlet of primary contests ahead.