Lies and misinformation have a lot in common. For one thing, making decisions based upon either one doesn’t hold much promise. And whenever decisions are made based upon a lack of truth — or a lack of information — things start out fundamentally wrong and tend to get worse. Unfortunately, that’s what has happened with trying to explain the Tulsa Police Department’s use of force practices and policies using the Equality Indicators reports.
For the past two years, as chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 93, I’ve been trying to explain how the report was based on a statistically unsound model and how it contains misinformation and lacks other critical information. Yet despite these fundamental flaws, others have supported the report and used it to draw conclusions and make so-called “informed” decisions concerning the Tulsa Police Department, including its use of force.
Consequently, the integrity of the Tulsa Police Department has been on trial for the past two years. The level of public trust in the department has been questioned time and again, and demands for greater oversight and accountability have often reached a fever pitch.
However, on Sept. 25, summary findings of a new research report were presented to the Tulsa City Council.
The new findings flatly contradict the Equality Indicators reports. For example, the new findings clearly indicate that the “strongest predictor” of use of force is “civilian resistance,” not race. In fact, the new findings indicate that “civilian resistance, presence of a weapon, (and) criminal behavior” are the top predictors, while all other factors — including race — are “much weaker and varied.”
But there’s something even more telling and far more concerning. The new findings also make it clear that “comparisons to population figures are inappropriate” for explaining the use of force. Yes, comparisons concerning race and population — like those found in the Equality Indicators reports — are fundamentally “inappropriate.”
Granted, saying “I told you so” might feel good for a moment. But it won’t help much to fight crime or improve the quality of life in our great city, which should be our main focus.
But to move forward, we should avoid repeating past mistakes. And we should take a moment to understand how the new findings underscore what we need to make better decisions in the future.
As strange as it may seem, when it comes to use of force the most important information we need is the information we do not yet have. Indeed, with all the hyper-focus on scrutinizing the decisions and actions of TPD officers, “civilian resistance” — the top predictor of use of force — has been overlooked.
As the new findings point out, we lack data and information about how civilians resist, or use force against the police, or otherwise engage in criminal behavior that makes it necessary for Tulsa police officers to use force in response. And at the very least, we must realize that we lack key data and information to make informed decisions about police procedures and policies regarding the use of force — as the new findings clearly indicate.
But I hope we can do more. I hope we will learn from the mistakes that the misuse of the Equality Indicators reports can teach us. And I hope that we will more carefully support the mayor’s mandate to embrace data-driven decision making and avoid making leadership decisions about use of force based upon misinformation and missing information.
The complete findings of the new research will be made available early next year. In the meantime, I hope that our city government, police leaders and concerned citizens will work together to get the data and information we need so we can better understand how Tulsa police do and do not use force — and make better-informed decisions in the future.
Jerad Lindsey is chairman of the Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police.