Equality Indicators Special Meeting

Tulsa police deputy chief Johnathon Brooks speaks while Capt. Thaddeus Espy listens during a Tulsa City Council Equality Indicators special meeting at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center on July 17. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

Tulsa Police Deputy Chief Jonathan Brooks sat for five hours during a meeting on police use of force ignited by the city’s Equality Indicators report.

He explained — as best he could — how the department has attempted to implement effective policing strategies through its Community Policing Program.

Brooks, who leads the program, listened to questions and comments about implicit bias and ways TPD as a whole could repair relationships within communities that had expressed skepticism over police tactics, which left some residents deeply embittered.

In that special City Council meeting last Wednesday night, Brooks acknowledged that the police need to rebuild credibility with residents. He also said the department had been in the process of adjusting its training and policies to prevent crime while not victimizing citizens.

Brooks still feels the same way he did that night, telling the Tulsa World recently that “the only way you could have community policing is through trust.”

The Tulsa World conducted an interview with Brooks and raised some of the concerns expressed by community members. He shared his thoughts about community policing, biases and how the Tulsa Police Department is perceived.

On how TPD has worked with city and community leaders through recommendations made by the Tulsa Commission on Community Policing

Not a lot of other police departments are doing all those 77 recommendations on the level that we are. So there was a lot of talk about community policing and the fact we were not doing those 77 recommendations, which in fact we are, but we never said that was our finish line. When President Obama set forth that commission (Task Force on 21st Century Policing), there was no standardized template for departments to follow that were best practices in everything that we do. And that’s why we went with that. And if you remember when Mayor G.T. Bynum took office, he established that community policing commission (The Tulsa Commission on Community Policing) and there was a very diverse group that was there to represent that, the city councilors, just various community leaders and to have their input on that.

On police attempts to build trust within communities

One of the crucial things that you hear repeatedly in these Equality Indicators meetings is trust and building trust. And the only way you could have community policing is through trust and that trust is working together (with the community) as a two-way street. Community policing is just not the police doing the work.

On the Town Square Apartments situation

As a police officer, I observed specialized officers working an area that leadership has determined to be a priority. By that I mean, the data shows a high call volume for that complex and in addition, a high violence rate including shootings. In an effort to thwart more violence and victimization, I see officers dedicated to providing public safety to the residents that ask for it and deserve it. The officers conducted themselves in a professional manner, conducted investigations while respectfully interacting with those that they came into contact with.

Furthermore, I have taken the opportunity to walk Town Square myself. In my travels there, I spoke with many residents. Only 1 out the 27 did not want to talk. All the others, including those that were present during the incident you are referring to, were more than willing to talk about that night. The overwhelming majority want a police presence in their neighborhood. They understand the need for police and safety while maintaining a balance for them to live without fear and interruption.

On other areas in Tulsa where the department uses policing strategies similar to Town Square

There are many other areas that the Tulsa Police Department takes an organized approach and focused efforts to reduce crime. There are several to list, but if you see an area that is repeatedly victimized, has increased violence or shootings, you can guarantee that the Tulsa Police Department will be there to provide public safety.

On the conflict in policing tactics between law enforcement and community leaders

The conflict is the manner in which it’s done. And that’s where we have to have our alignment because we have way more (in) common than not, right? We want the same things. So it’s coming together to provide those safe neighborhoods. You know, I’ve invited everybody that’s part of that to come on a ride-along and see it from the perspective of the officer, as well. We’ve walked the streets from the other side. We’ve worked with kids, you know, and we explain the (legal) rights and everything like that. That’s where I’m talking about when we start working together.

On whether officers understand why some citizens may feel community policing isn’t working

We must understand that everybody has a perspective. And everybody’s entitled to that perspective. What we’re trying to do is prevent that next victim from having to call. Either a life has to be saved or attempt to be saved and somebody has to be brought to justice. We do understand. I think I said it in that (Equality Indicators) meeting, we’re not going to have solutions in this meeting. The solution is going to happen when we’re out there doing the work on the street.

On what successful community policing looks like

The one thing is that nobody can agree on is really what community policing is. You know, we’ve been working on it for a long time, and it involves a lot of facets of, you know, community engagement, community education, community partnerships and crime prevention, all these components. So if we were successful, the main measure that I would go by is our citizen response. We’re here to serve and protect. Sometimes there may be disagreement because there is a job to do, but we have to be cognizant of that for everybody that we’re trying to serve. I see success is when we’re all working together, preventing crime before it even happens.

On policing mistakes that impact public perception

It’s difficult sometimes. Everybody that was in that (Equality Indicators) meeting ... we sit with them outside of those meetings and talk about these things. And when we talk about it, it’s like there’s not that opportunity to explain everything. Every policeman is human. Are we going to make mistakes? Yeah. Because we’re human, right? So they’re going to. We have to have those relationships where we can sit down and talk about those before they even happen. Start building that trust is the first thing we have to have. Because if you don’t feel like you can come to your police department or vice versa, the police department doesn’t feel like it can get help from you, then that means one thing. We don’t have a relationship. And so that has to be done first. And once we had that relationship, we build the trust and then we start working on those goals.

On how TPD handles criticism from those not involved in policing

I mean, I’m not going to say it’s very difficult, but it’s always kind of been there in policing. I think Chief (Egunwale Fagbenro) Amusan (president of the Tulsa African Ancestral Society) brought up consent decree. And right now there’s the immigration stuff in the Hispanic community, and they look at the police as enforcing President Trump’s “build the wall” campaign. It’s difficult. But the interesting thing about it is that’s what we like about the challenge of it is being able to build those bridges and making sure that we can get through it.

I’ll say (it’s) frustrating because I look out and I see the good work that the men and women out there are doing and there’s no credit for that. But we get compared to the national police. There are mistakes, but I think if we communicated better about the things going on in Tulsa, they would see how much better the police department is in Tulsa than anywhere else.

On whether officers understand why minority communities might not be comfortable with the police

If you’re a student of history, you can understand the comfort level because it’s something that a lot of police today don’t have knowledge of — the things that happened back in policing’s past. So that’s one level and we have to understand that. We have to understand that after the police come in and resolve a crime, we have to leave. We can’t stay there 24/7. So that attributes to some will say, “Well, you can’t protect me, so I’m not saying anything and I’m not working with the police.” And that further attributes to that because you can’t be seen helping the police right now. And so that attributes to that, as well.

On how TPD can execute proactive policing without alienating citizens

I mean, that’s the tough one is because we have to sit down and start having those conversations with the community about what’s transpiring and coming up with those common goals. One of the things that we are trying to get better at is communicating. Policing has changed in just the last 20 years. You have to know the history of that. And then you also have to know the history of the community and everything that’s happened. What we need to do specifically is communicate better about the policing methods. If you want to boil it down to one thing that we can do better, what the police department can do better is communicate. We have not done the greatest job of communicating.

On whether biases can be removed from police work

So now you’re talking more about unconscious or implicit bias as opposed to explicit, which leads to police bias and profiling, right? So you’re talking about the implicit part. Everybody has it. We all have biases that we don’t know about. They’re implicit. And I guarantee if we test everybody somewhere along the way, somebody’s going to have an unconscious bias, whether it’s racial, ethnic, gender, sociology, whatever it can be. And so what you’re saying is to completely get rid of that, the police department then (in) effect you have robots. And those robots then become impersonal, which attributes to the problems that we’re having today. So what we want is everybody to understand that officers are human and we can communicate and we can work together as humans. It’s not this robotic state. One thing that we can address through policy training and supervision and all this other stuff, is addressing the bias when it affects the performance in the job.

On whether the department has addressed incidents of bias among its officers

Every time that we’ve ever had an incident? I’m not even thinking of any incidents or involving that, but every time we have any kind of behavioral issues or policy violations, it’s always consistently addressed.

Sgt. Richard Meulenberg also spoke to the Tulsa World about TPD defending against bias within in its ranks.

“We don’t get people that apply for us that have a swastika tattooed on their forehead and say, ‘Hey, I’m a bigot,’ and we say, ‘Oh, we’re going to hire you anyway.’ When we get them (recruits) in the academy, we have a very diverse group that actually oversees them, our class coordinators, and then they’re watched closely there. They’ve got six months more in the academy and field training,” Meulenberg said.

“If they (police officers) are clearly violating someone’s rights and they’re violating a policy, they (citizens) have to call and complain about that person. Everybody has a phone and has a camera, right? So if someone’s left of center on the department, you need to let us know because the theory is (that) we police our own. Sure, but at the same time though, we have a track record of policing our own successfully. I can’t have someone being corrosive in a squad who’s bad because there are no exceptions. We have to have a higher standard.”

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Kendrick Marshall



Twitter: @KD_Marshall

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