The city’s Equality Indicators reports are all about numbers. Wednesday night, city councilors received a bunch more, this time on racial and gender diversity in the Tulsa Police Department.
The bottom line: The department is not where it wants to be when it comes to diversity.
Of the department’s 827 sworn officers, 74% are white and only 8% are African American. Yet whites make up 55% of the city’s population and blacks make up 15%, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Men, meanwhile, make up nearly 88% of the department’s officers.
Maj. Ryan Perkins addressed the issue head-on in his opening remarks during a special City Council meeting on the Equality Indicators reports at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
About 40 members of the general public attended the meeting.
“We understand that diversity brings a better perspective and that citizens report that they are more comfortable when they see their own culture represented on the department,” he said.
The department has had success the last few years in diversifying its workforce despite a nationwide downturn in police recruits, Perkins said. Several factors have contributed to that slowdown, including a strong economy, fear of the dangers that come with the job, and communities’ perceptions of police.
Recruitment is even more difficult in Tulsa because candidates are required to have a bachelor’s degree, Perkins said.
“Degreed officers use less force, less excessive force, receive fewer complaints and communicate more effectively,” he told councilors.
Perkins was one of six panelists invited to the meeting to answer councilors’ questions on racial and gender representation in the Police Department and what the department is doing to improve those numbers.
Panelist Sandra Quince, diversity and inclusion executive at Bank of America, said creating a diverse workplace is about more than recruiting; it’s about supporting recruits once they are hired.
Providing mentors is key, she told councilors.
Studies show that maintaining a diverse workforce “requires sponsorship and mentorship. They (employees) have to have it,” she said. “If they come into an organization and they are not sponsored, they will not be successful.”
Much of Wednesday night’s conversation focused on the department’s efforts to hire more women. Lynn Jones, a retired Tulsa Police Department major, described law enforcement as a calling.
“Along with law enforcement comes very unique kinds of requirements: If you’ve never held a gun, you’re going to hold a gun. If you’ve never driven fast, you’re going to drive fast,” she said. “Some of these things do not appeal to women, and that is part of the reason why recruitment is tough.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I know we have tried several strategies over the years while I was there.”
One of the most effective recent strategies employed to recruit women has been the department’s Women in Policing days. Deputy Police Chief Eric Dalgleish said participants spend an entire day at the Tulsa Police Academy getting a comprehensive look at what it takes to be an officer.
“It is very much a confidence-builder,” Dalgleish said. “We have done three of those, and we have already seen a significant number of applicants transition from … there to our application process.
“So the next step that was discussed was applying those types of one-day strategies to specific ethnic groups.”
The city has released two Equality Indicators reports, one in 2018 and one in 2019. The reports use a number of factors, including race, age, gender and income, to measure outcomes and identify inequalities.
The City Council special meetings have focused on the racial disparities in police practices outlined in the reports.
The councilors’ final Equality Indicators special meeting is scheduled for September. The topic will be racial and gender disparities in police arrests of adults.