No one will be able to say with a clear conscience that Mayor G.T. Bynum wasn’t open to hearing from Tulsans about what they’re looking for in the city’s next police chief and in the Police Department.
Last week alone he held three town hall meetings on the subject. He’s met with dozens of north Tulsa faith leaders, the local police union and representatives of the Hispanic community. He’s made dozens of phone calls and is spending this weekend making more.
What he has learned from all the listening might surprise you.
“Throughout my discussions this week there was such a similarity between what people in the community and the city, the citizens, are hoping for from the next police chief and for policing over the next 10 years, and what the officers themselves hope for the next chief and want to see in the city and in policing over the next 10 years,” Bynum said.
“I don’t think both sides are aware of that (shared vision) because they haven’t had the luxury of communicating with one another as I have had over the last couple of weeks,” the mayor said.
Three of those shared aspirations became evident during last week’s town hall meetings, the mayor said: the desire for the next police chief to have high standards and a clear plan to hold officers accountable for meeting them; for the chief to be personally engaged in the community and expect the same of the officers; and for the department to have the best training in the nation.
Bynum has set no timeline for naming a successor to Chief Chuck Jordan, who is retiring effective Feb. 1. But he has made it clear that that person likely will be chosen from the seven internal candidates who have applied for the job.
“I don’t view as synonymous an internal candidate with the status quo,” he said. “I think someone who has been in the organization, who understands the organization — the good and the bad — and the people within the organization and also the issues we’ve been facing in Tulsa over the last several years as it relates to policing and community relations, is better positioned to continue the kinds of improvements we want.”
Plenty of speakers at last week’s town hall meetings let Bynum know they disagreed with him on that issue. Others urged him to select an African American or other minority. Given the sheer number of people he’s heard from, Bynum’s bound to disappoint more than a few Tulsans when he makes his decision.
He knows it.
“The clear recognition that I had during the week is that there is no candidate, there is no person alive, who can fit what expectations every person has,” he said.
He added: “That is the nature of selecting somebody for a job. There is always going to be people who don’t think that you got the right person. And then the real onus is on the person in the job to prove that they were worth the trust in placing it with them.”
At the start of each public meeting last week, the mayor laid out the qualities he is looking for in the next police chief. He wants someone who possesses strategies for and understands the importance of continuing existing policies to make the city safer; has bought into and understands the importance of community policing; has strong financial management skills; and is committed to innovation and the use of technology.
Bynum said he understands and appreciates the desire expressed by many Tulsans for more public engagement in the selection process, and he said he is working to finalize such a format.
He is adamant, however, about not turning the hiring process into a popularity contest.
“This is about finding the person, based on everything I have heard — and not just in the last week and a half but in the last three years, really in the last 12 years that I have been at the city — that people want to see from the Police Department and the chief who leads it,” Bynum said.