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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The Oklahoma City Law Enforcement Policy Task Force met on Thursday afternoon to receive the first draft of recommendations from consulting firm 21cp. 

21cp has been working with the Community Policing Working Group and the Task Force, as well as community organizations, metro police departments, and other public safety stakeholders for the last several months.

Providing a draft of over 20 recommendations across eight categories was a milestone of 21cp’s work for the City of Oklahoma City.

The presentation and discussion of the recommendations lasted over two hours on Thursday afternoon, as many members of the Task Force offered feedback, both positive and negative.

law enforcement
The virtual meeting of the Oklahoma City Law Enforcement Task Force Thursday, August 12, 2021. (Zoom screenshot)

Phases

The recommendations came at the end of 21cp’s second phase of operating in our City. 

The first phase consisted of gathering information from the Task Force, the Working Group, and the City. 

Phase two expanded to extensive information gathering in the community at large through various means of outreach. Phase two also included an in-depth review of existing Oklahoma City Police Department policies and procedures in order to create these recommendations.

To learn more:

Policing – public safety reform listening session reveals concerns and pain

Categories

The draft of recommendations presented Thursday fall under four categories. Those categories are:

  • Law Enforcement De-escalation Policy, 
  • Independent Law Enforcement Accountability to the Community, 
  • Law Enforcement Training in Crisis Response, and 
  • Alternative Response to Mental Health Calls.

Phase Three will be a development phase. The consultants will take time to vet the recommendations against the City’s budget, community resource availability, and to ensure they offer a “clear, actionable playbook for proposed reforms.”

Throughout Thursday’s meeting, representatives of 21cp underscored that these recommendations are simply a draft, not a finished product. That will come from their work during Phase Three.

Marty Peercy reports Local government

Accountability

21cp’s initial engagement with the Task Force called for assistance in enhancing de-escalation in police interactions with members of the public. In service of that goal, they worked with the Working Group, Task Force, and sub-committees to investigate best practices and to examine current policy and practice. 21cp declares that in their experience there is usually a disconnect in departments between what they say they do, what they actually do, and what they should do.

The following policy recommendations seek to give guidance to officers and transparency to the community.

  1. De-escalation should be elevated to policy level to highlight it as a core department value.
  2. OKCPD should revise its Use of Force policy to include levels of reporting based on the severity of the use of force.
  3. The department should formalize and strengthen its Force Review Board to holistically review uses of force for lessons learned.
  4. Provide publicly-facing aggregate statistics–in dashboard and raw format–of officer activities including use of force.
  5. Shorten the waiting period for interviewing officers who have been involved in a shooting or use of force incident, ideally before the end of shift in most circumstances.
  6. Prohibit officers from viewing video evidence before providing an interview in critical events.
  7. Consider increasing the budgeted number of officers trained in CIT based on the number of calls requiring that type of response.
  8. Consider preference points in hiring new officers with experience in mental health and/or social work.
  9. Consider creating a Crisis Intervention Committee to focus on mental health response city-wide to ongoing needs in the community.

As to the recommendations regarding Use of Force, the main focus was on categorizing levels of use of force. Consultants suggested a three-tiered system of classification. Currently, the OKCPD definition of Use of Force includes anything beyond normal handcuffing. Consultants suggest levels that would consist of handcuffing that results in injury or complaint of injury first, followed by bodily injury that might include deployment of a taser or OC spray, and third serious injury or death.

According to Deputy Chief Bacy of the OKCPD, their current broad definition results in too many cases being investigated, meaning that resources don’t allow for a keener focus on more significant incidents. A tiered system would prioritize those investigations.

Much of Thursday’s meeting was focused on CIT officers.

Crisis Intervention Team

CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) officers are trained in mental health crisis response. Every officer of the OKCPD receives 24 hours of mental health training, with two hours of supplemental training every year. CIT training is 40 hours.

National standards for CIT training recommend that 20 to 25% of a department’s officers be CIT trained. OKCPD leadership says that that percentage is a “floor, not a ceiling,” meaning that they recognize that it would be ideal to surpass that percentage.

Currently, OKCPD has 158 budgeted CIT positions, but they are not all filled.

CIT training is not mandatory at OKCPD. Bacy echoed the familiar line from Chief of Police Wade Gourley that the department doesn’t want people trained for CIT who aren’t specifically interested in that type of training.

Garland Pruitt, local NAACP chapter president, who sits on the Task Force, pointed out that they have the managerial right to assign job duties.

The Department offered no examples of other police work that officers may refuse for lack of interest or desire.

21cp pointed out in their report that officers who would refuse such training might not be appropriate officers for 21st-century police work.

There is not a lot of reporting to demonstrate the effectiveness of CIT training in outcomes from the field.

When asked the very simple question of whether there is an expectation that this training would produce better interactions in the field, Bacy admitted that they don’t have expectations, just hope.

Accountability

The following three recommendations are related to the Police Department’s accountability to the community at large.

  1. Assess membership design of the Citizens Advisory Board (CAB), including who sits on the board, transparency in their appointments, and establish term limits.
  2. Consider changing the scope of the CAB to increase its ability to influence accountability measures for police officers.
  3. Engage in a comprehensive education campaign to highlight the work and authority of the CAB.
  4. Add an electronic way to file a complaint anonymously, perhaps through a web form.

The CAB currently has little support from the community at large. Many members of the community see the CAB as an organization that shields police from accountability, in fact.

21cp representatives said that the CAB isn’t effective because nobody knows who they are or what they do.

In the discussion of filing anonymous complaints, Dexter Nelson of the OCU Police Department said that it is difficult to investigate an incident if the investigator doesn’t know who to talk to about the incident.

Many members of the community, however, are intimidated by the idea of filing a complaint with the police for fear of retaliation.

Training/Crisis Response

The next recommendation in the draft is related to ongoing or new training, especially in crisis response.

  1. Develop a specific and comprehensive training plan for ensuring that CIT officers have sufficient support and training both in the short term and throughout their careers.

Not much discussion was held on this recommendation, leaving the vagary of it open for the time being.

Alternative Response

In recent years, communities across the nation have been investigating new ways to respond to mental health needs, especially in times of mental health crises. Many police departments cite that 70-80% of their calls relate to mental health. 21cp worked with a subcommittee to fine-tune some recommendations in this arena but to mixed results.

  1. The City should issue a Request for information to determine what community resources exist and what capacity they have for an alternative response program.
  2. As OKC potentially invests in a new records management system, part of the requirements should be that it connects to dispatch and allows for coordination to respond to mental health issues, identifying frequent callers and potential needs or specialized responses they require.
  3. Community training/public education on how best to call for emergency needs in a mental health crisis in order to provide Dispatch and subsequently the law enforcement or first responder the best information to mitigate the problem upfront.
  4. Consistent with above, 911 dispatchers should continue training in crisis intervention, continue to have access to updated information on which officers are CIT, and regularly revisit their script protocols for crisis events to learn, along with the department, the best approaches based on outcomes.

Under recommendation 15, there was some mention of a pilot program with Northcare. It was not clarified if that referenced the tablet program touted by Gourley during the recent budget presentations, or if it referred to another program with Northcare involving DHS.

Regardless of which program was intended in the report, the “alternative response” idea was discovered to have different meanings to different members of the Task Force, 21cp, and the City Manager.

Task Force members Joshua Higgenbotham and T. Sheri Dickerson both emphasized that what was wanted by community members was a response not involving the police at all. Ward 2 City Councilman James Cooper also expressed concern on this point.

City Manager Craig Freeman said that when he heard “alternative response,” it simply meant to do things differently than they are being done currently.

After much discussion, Maxey of 21cp stated, “We have clearly missed the mark with this one.”

More Recommendations

The meeting adjourned after a discussion of the alternative response recommendations, due to time.

For the full report including the draft recommendations, visit THIS PAGE on the City’s website.

21cp will now enter Phase Three of their process, which will result in a final report they hope to present to the Working Group and the Task Force in October. Assistant City Manager Kenton Tsoodle said he hopes to have that report ready for presentation to the City Council in November.

Last Updated August 13, 2021, 12:45 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor