In the days and weeks following the May 25 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police, uprisings against police violence happened internationally, including in Oklahoma City.
The unrest in OKC didn’t get many national headlines, though police used force and “less lethal” weapons such as bean bag rounds and tear gas against members of the community during protests.
Many residents of the city were vocal in their calls for the Mayor and City Manager to address excessive force and over-policing of poor communities and communities of color in the City.
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The response from Mayor Holt and City Manager Craig Freeman was to form a Task Force, rather than to accept demands to reduce the police budget or ask for the resignation of Police Chief Wade Gourley.
The Oklahoma City Law Enforcement Task Force was announced officially on July 1, 2020.
The Task Force is led by former Assistant City Manager – and former Chief of Police – M.T. Berry. Members of the Task Force include four Oklahoma City councilors; two state senators; two state representatives; the Chiefs of Police for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City University, and OU Health Sciences Center; Fraternal Order of Police leadership; and a smattering of community members.
The Task Force as stated, has two main goals.
The first is to review and revise the Department’s de-escalation policies. The Task Force is also to review the structure currently in place to provide “credible and independent accountability back to the community.”
Some of the community members serving on the Task Force have voiced concerns about the committee. They perceive the City is treating the Task Force as an afterthought.
The lack of prioritization of the Task Force’s goals was cited as a reason one member of the Task Force resigned.
Private complaints from some community members on the Task Force about disorganization, late notice of meetings, and a toxic culture of disrespect and intolerance have surfaced in the months since the Task Force started meeting. Some have said that they felt that the only purpose the Task Force was serving was to hire a consultant.
During the December 22, 2020 meeting of the City Council, the Councilors were asked to approve the selection of 21cp as a consulting firm for the Task Force.
Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice raised concerns about the choice of the consulting company. Nice, who serves on the Task Force, said that the Task Force’s committee to review the RFPs for a consultant had a split vote.
Her concern was that three members of City Staff swung the vote to 21cp. She said that this made it seem that the City, rather than the community, was steering the Task Force’s decisions.
Nice was joined by Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon and Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper, who also serves on the Task Force, in voting against the hiring of 21cp.
Cooper said that he wasn’t comfortable with the selection process, but that he believes in the purpose of the Task Force and thinks it will be a success.
During the September meeting of the Task Force the group heard two proposals for consulting groups.
The first proposal was from the Community Relations Service (CRS) of the Department of Justice.
The proposal explained that the organization is neutral in a community, taking no sides. Their practice is to meet with community groups and city and police leadership and try to bring these groups to a common table to discuss changes. Then CRS helps to plan structures for communication between the Police and the community by forming a board to work alongside the Police. CRS was responsible for creating the current Citizens Advisory Board that the Police Department currently has.
At the same meeting, member and clergyman Jon Middendorf gave a presentation on 21cp. He explained that the company was offering its lowest price ever to a community. Previously, Middendorf said, they had never charged less than $250,000.
However, according to the minister, 21cp wanted so badly to come to Oklahoma City they were offering to perform their services for $150,000. Furthermore, Middendorf went on, the Inasmuch Foundation was interested in 21cp and were willing to offer to pay for much if not all of the cost of hiring the firm and implementing their suggestions.
The price tag went up between September and the actual vote of the Council on December 22. In that final meeting of the year, the Council approved hiring 21cp at the rate of $193,000. The Council was reassured by Assistant City Manager Kenny Tsoodle and Task Force Chair M.T. Berry that the Inasmuch Foundation was ready to grant the City $175,000 to offset those costs.
The Council voted 5-3 to approve the hiring of 21cp, over the concerns of the three Council members. The firm is expected to start work in the first couple of months of the new year, with some recommendations coming as soon as July, after which the community will be invited to take part in their work.
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