Cops 61st and Peoria

A man with outstanding warrants stands in handcuffs after being arrested by Tulsa Police officers. Mayor G.T. Bynum on Wednesday informed city councilors that he plans to create an Office of the Independent Monitor to follow up on citizen complaints and review Tulsa Police Internal Affairs’ investigations of use-of-force incidents. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World

Tulsa police rarely use force during arrests and don’t use it against minorities in a statistically disproportionate fashion, according to an in-depth, independent study.

A University of Cincinnati-led study found that 1.7% of arrests involved use of force. The study confirmed what police have maintained for a long time: Race is not a predictor in police use of force during arrests.

That goes against an earlier Equality Indicators report and another review by Human Rights Watch. The Equality Indicators study showed black and Hispanic residents were much more likely than white people to be subjected to force by police officers. The Indicators report used the racial distribution of the city population for comparison, which was a mistake, according to the University of Cincinnati researchers, who reconsidered use of force in the light of other variables, including arrest and crime statistics.

The Indicators report prompted public meetings that clearly showed distrust of law enforcement among racial minorities and in high-poverty neighborhoods.

In January, a Gallup-Tulsa Citivoice Index poll found half of black residents feel that Tulsa officers don’t treat people like them fairly and that only about 1 in 5 have a lot of trust in the department.

Against this backdrop, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum did the right thing by proposing an Office of Independent Monitor, which would have provided independent, external oversight without interfering with the police chain of command.

Some city councilors opposed it; a couple didn’t think it went far enough and some never publicly commented.

Seeing a potential loss, Bynum pulled the plan and, on Wednesday, came back with a weaker proposal that focuses on community oriented policing. The mayor says his independent monitor plan isn’t dead, but there’s no reason to think anyone is pushing it forward anytime soon.

Accepting for the sake of argument that use of force in Tulsa is uncommon and not tied to race, who would deny that a single improper or mishandled incident can potentially poison TPD’s relationship with black and Hispanic Tulsans? Regardless of whose statistics you prefer, an independent, citizen-led use of force review process seems essential to bridging the TPD trust gap.

We urge the mayor to continue pushing the issue. Sometimes being right is more important than losing a Council vote.


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