Tulsa Police Maj. Ryan Perkins listened Wednesday night as nine people stood before the City Council to lament the lack of diversity in the Police Department. As the department’s training director, it was important for him to be there.
“The problem becomes that we have been dealing with this for decades and decades and decades, and we come here and we act as if this is something new,” said state Rep. Regina Goodwin.
Alvin McDonald, a retired Tulsa police officer, pointed to the most recently graduated police academy class, which he said included no African Americans.
“The city deserves a lot better than that,” McDonald said.
Another retired Tulsa police officer, Keenan Meadors, said he grew up in north Tulsa and can remember a time when more minority officers patrolled the neighborhoods.
“When there was more minority police officers, especially black police officers there, the kids could look up to them and relate to them and give information,” he said. “It was just a different situation where normally the black officers live in their communities.”
Peggy Burgess suggested the police create an apprentice program to assist those people who don’t have the means or the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree, which all Tulsa Police Department candidates must have.
“I understand that there are many people of good character and intellect who lack the financial resources necessary to pursue a college degree full time,” Burgess said.
Perkins didn’t speak during the meeting. That will come next week, when the City Council explores the lack of diversity in the Police Department as part of its ongoing examination of the city’s Equality Indicators reports.
But he did have a few things to say after the meeting when questioned by the Tulsa World.
“It is absolutely the goal of the city of Tulsa Police Department — it has been our goal for years — to demographically represent the city,” he said.
The Police Department goes to great lengths to recruit diverse classes for its academy, including visits to historically African American colleges and trips to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, Perkins said.
“We are significantly underrepresented in Hispanics much more than African Americans,” he said.
The average age of Hispanic residents of Tulsa is 19, resulting in a dearth of potential Hispanic applicants who have graduated from college, Perkins said. That is why the Police Department goes to west Texas, eastern New Mexico and Arizona to look for candidates.
“We find we have to go there because we have to find second- and third-generation Hispanics who are in college who see this as a potential profession,” Perkins said.
He acknowledged that the most recent academy class to graduate had no African Americans in it but said it did include a large number of Hispanics and several women, including a Hispanic woman.
He described the current academy class “as one of the most diverse that we have had in years.”
“So the idea that we don’t have any African Americans going through the academy is absolutely false,” Perkins said.
The Police Department has explored — or is exploring — every suggested remedy that was offered by speakers at Wednesday night’s meeting, including Peggy Burgess’ idea for an apprenticeship program, Perkins said.
“We are actively in discussion with a local university to try to see the feasibility of a degree-completion program where students who do not yet have a bachelor’s degree could finish their bachelor’s degree while they are in the police academy,” Perkins said. “We don’t know whether that program is going to come to fruition or not.”
But Perkins is confident that the city is on the right track when it comes to attracting a diverse workforce. Tulsa is caught up in a nationwide trend, he said, where law enforcement agencies large and small are having trouble recruiting not only minority candidates but candidates in general.
Still, Perkins said, “Compare us to Oklahoma City or the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. We have better current diversity numbers.”
Next week’s Equality Indicators special meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Liddy Doenges Theater at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.