Through multiple discussions examining ways in which the racial and gender makeup of the Tulsa Police Department could be improved to reflect the demographics of the city, many elements were learned through the two-week public review.
What’s known, based on internal 2019 data produced by TPD, is that the force is overwhelmingly white and male. Statistics also point out that significant under-representation exists among African American, Asian and Hispanic sworn officers compared to Tulsa’s racial population of those groups. The gulf between active sworn women officers in relation to the city’s adult female population is a 39-percentage point gap.
During the most recent City Council special meeting on the city’s Equality Indicators, the public also was informed about varying strategies implemented and attempted by TPD to recruit more women and ethnic minorities.
The careful inspection of the Police Department’s demographic hiring and retention practices ultimately leads to natural inquiries of why so much is made of TPD — or any other police force for that matter — needing to be represented by certain groups.
Research shows, according to Equality Indicators project manager Melanie Poulter, that a diverse workforce that reflects the community across all spectrums benefits everyone.
“This just isn’t a workforce equity issue,” said Poulter. “When community members feel that law enforcement understands them and relates to them because they actually represent them, police and community relations improve overall.”
Further investigation suggests that increased diversity can make law enforcement agencies more open to reform, more willing to initiate cultural and systemic changes, and more responsive to the residents they serve.
A Gallup-Tulsa Citivoice Index survey, the first of its kind, revealed that only 36% of African Americans felt police had “a positive or very positive impact on the area where they live.” Similarly, only 39% percent of Hispanics said they trusted the police, according to the survey, which was released in January.
The latest Equality Indicators meeting included discussions about why women tend to shy away from police work (despite female officers using less force and communicating in a way that tempers potential violence). Reasons cited included the physical nature of the job, the impact the profession would have on starting a family and concerns about functioning in a male-dominated industry.
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.
Poulter explained that citizens ultimately gain more trust in their local police force when it is aligned with a city’s racial and gender makeup. Another impact of diversity is that residents acquire belief in local government itself, she said.
“(Diversity) instills public confidence in government in general because you feel like you are part of (it) because you see people like you in that role,” Poulter said. “It diminishes the us-versus-them mentality. It comes down to seeing people like you in those positions.”
Maj. Ryan Perkins, the Tulsa Police Department’s training director, explained its leadership — just like many other agencies across the country — has grown to value diversity as beneficial to the institution as a whole.
It is why Perkins and the department’s recruiting officers have traveled to colleges, career fairs and to neighboring states in search of potential female and minority police officers.
“Citizens report they are more comfortable to see their own culture represented on the department,” he said. “A department that is diverse in any way can help give perspective to officers that maybe don’t have an understanding of cultures and certain people who don’t have a similar experience as them.
“We want our agency to have a broad cultural perspective and a broad life experience perspective. That’s why we are striving to have officers that have those different perspectives.”
Even though TPD has made efforts to become more diverse, Perkins said, the department still maintains its qualification standards for those interested in joining the force regardless of race or gender.
He also wanted to dispel the notion that TPD was intentionally refusing to hire qualified minorities or that it was passing over qualified white candidates to fulfill a demographic representation requirement.
“The idea that we’re passing up qualified candidates for unqualified candidates, we don’t do that. We don’t hire unqualified candidates just because they meet a certain demographic,” Perkins said. “We only hire qualified candidates. In an environment where we have qualified candidates that could help diversify our police department, we are going to strive to do that.”
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