2019-09-26 ne-lastequality p (2)

City staff and community members attend the last Tulsa Equality Indicators meeting at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, where city councilors questioned panelists on Sept. 25. HARRISON GRIMWOOD/Tulsa World file

We were encouraged to hear City Council Chairman Phil Lakin say the city must act in response to what was learned in the Equality Indicators examination process.

Initially, the City Council resisted even considering the 2018 and 2019 reports on racial and gender disparities in police arrests, use of force and minority representation on the police force. But after being publicly cajoled, the City Council engaged in the process and seemed to catch on to its importance.

All the information the council gathered through the process has little value though, if it isn’t put to work in reform. Lakin told the Tulsa World’s Kendrick Marshall the immediate goal is to have a plan by the early part of next year.

In public collaboration with Mayor G.T. Bynum, Police Chief Chuck Jordan and other interested parties, the council should put together an action plan to address the troubling issues revealed in the Equality Indicators process. The council’s authority to change things isn’t unlimited — state law, the city charter, contractual agreements and other factors apply — but it would still be in the city’s best interest if the council would put forward its goals and preferred strategies for achieving them.

We’ll reiterate our suggestion for part of that reform: A citizen-led public review process of police uses of force.

Less than a year ago, a Gallup-Tulsa Citivoice Index poll found only about 1 in 5 black Tulsans have a lot of trust in the department. When asked if Tulsa officers treat people like them fairly, more than half of the city’s black residents who were polled said no.

The Equality Indicators study showed black and Hispanic residents were much more likely than white people to be subjected to force by police officers, a conclusion disputed by a subsequent University of Cincinnati study, but in line with a separate finding by Human Rights Watch, which documented many instances of people subjected to apparent “arbitrary, abusive or disproportionate” force by officers.

There’s a trust gap between Tulsa Police Department and its black community, which is made worse by even one inappropriate use of force. The best solution is sunshine, a complete examination of critical incidents, independent of the Police Department, and subject to full public scrutiny.

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