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Oklahoma City Council candidates for Ward 1 and Ward 3 discussed their positions on public safety during a virtual and in-person forum Monday evening.

They weighed in on police response times, the summer protests in 2020, and “defunding” the Oklahoma City Police Department.

The forum was held in the southside union hall of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 123 (OKC-FOP) which represents sworn officers in the Oklahoma City police department.

All four candidates participated in the forum, which was live-streamed on the OKC-FOP Facebook page.

Mostly police officers were present in the union hall. Free Press was one of the few news outlets to cover the event in person.

Each candidate had the opportunity to share their views on public safety ahead of the April 6 runoff election. The FOP’s vice president, Mark Nelson, questioned the candidates on their plans for public safety if elected as city councilors. 

Runoff candidates Bradley Carter and Shay Varnell will compete for the Ward 1 seat, while Jessica Martinez-Brooks and Barbara Young face each other in the race for the Ward 3 seat. 

Candidates were asked about their positions on law enforcement responses, defunding the police, emergency response times, and more. 

Emergency Response Times 

Candidates shared their thoughts on police emergency response times. Nelson asked the candidates if the current response time is enough time to respond to emergencies. 

According to the most recent performance report, 80 percent of emergency calls are responded to within 9 minutes and 30 seconds from the time a 911 call is answered until an officer arrives. 

Martinez-Brooks believes police officers are doing what they can with the amount of time and resources available. She said it’s particularly important to make sure that the police and fire departments are adequately prepared to meet response times in Ward 3, because of the high growth population. 

“We do need to make sure that we are meeting those response times and making sure that all of our residents feel safe and secure in their neighborhoods,” said Martinez-Brooks. 

Her opponent, Young, did not get the opportunity to respond to this question. 

Carter said it depends on the situation, but he believes that police officers are doing what they can within that time frame. 

“They do everything they possibly can,” Carter said. “We got to make sure that we’re not putting so many roadblocks in their way that they can’t do their job properly.” 

His opponent, Varnell said every second counts in an emergency situation which is why he believes it’s important to make sure the department gets the proper funding and training to respond quickly. 

“I want to make sure our first responders get there as fast as they can,” Varnell said.

Summer protests

Candidates were asked about their thoughts on the police response to the protest that broke out in Oklahoma City for days starting with May 30 following the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody last summer. 

To learn more: Peaceful protest devolves into broken glass, police confrontations, tear gas

All four of the candidates agreed that the police department’s response was appropriate. None of the candidates believe police officers should have stood down during the protest. 

“I think our city did better than any city that I saw on the news,” said Varnell in his response. 

His opponent, Carter, agreed that police officers were justified in their response to demonstrators who gathered to protest racial injustice and police brutality. 

“Everybody has a right to peacefully protest,” said Martinez-Brooks. “You don’t have a right to harm others and you don’t have a right to destroy property.” 

“Our officers did an excellent job of managing the situation that was presented to them,” said Young. “So I support what went on.” 

“Defunding” the police 

None of the four candidates support defunding the police department. 

Martinez-Brooks said she would never vote to defund the police. 

“We already have a growing population, especially out in Ward 3,” said Martinez-Brooks “We have to maintain the appropriate officer to citizen ratio in order to keep the public safe.” 

However, Martinez-Brooks’ response was more nuanced than the others. She said that there needs to be funding for more mental health personnel added to police officers who can respond to a mental health crisis that officers often face.

Young agreed with her opponent that she would not support defunding the police. Instead, she said that she would like to see even more funding for the police department. 

Carter said he would not support cutting the police budget. He believes the city should invest more into public safety. 

“I’m very much against the defunding conversation,” said Carter in his response. 

Varnell held the same views as the other candidates in this position.

“I would not support taking away money from the police to give it to any other department,” Varnell said in his response.

The last day to register to vote in the upcoming election is March 12  and the deadline to request an absentee ballot is March 30, at 5 p.m. Voters in Wards 1 and 3 registered at their current address are eligible to vote. 

The nonpartisan election will determine who will represent Wards 1 and 3 on the City Council for the City of Oklahoma City for the next four years, which begins April 13.

Last Updated March 2, 2021, 12:02 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor