"Defunding the police" became a hot topic following George Floyd’s murder in May 2020 and the subsequent trial and conviction of the Minneapolis police officer responsible for Floyd’s death. While groups on opposite ends of the political spectrum argue over the meaning of "defunding," police and government officials in Oklahoma City may be on the path to finding a way to improve policing in ways that benefit both law enforcement and community residents.
Government officials recently voted to accept a study containing39 recommendations to improve the Oklahoma City Police Department. The recommendations resulted from the work of a task force created by the mayor and a community working group, both of which began their efforts in August 2020 in response to Floyd’s death. The groups were joined in 2021 by a consultant, 21CPSolutions, hired by the city after the death of two men killed by city police officers – officers who were charged in connection with both shootings.
A sign regarding the possible implementation of policy and procedural changes came when the Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police president stated that his organization would be open to discussing the recommendations. It was also encouraging to hear him say that, even though the FOP may not currently agree with some of the proposals, they were still open to discussion.
Officials said it might take years before the city and its police department adopt some recommendations. In the meantime, here is a brief look at the study and its recommendations.
A look at police-community relations in Oklahoma City
According to its website, 21CP Solutions helps government officials and law enforcement agencies adapt to changing national and local-community expectations for policing. To that end, it surveyed to gauge public sentiment about the operations of the Oklahoma City Police Department.
The survey found that 83% of residents reported feeling safe to very safe in their community during the day, compared to only 2% of residents who felt unsafe or very unsafe. The perception of safety “at night” was another story, with 61% of residents feeling safe to very safe and 10% feeling unsafe to very unsafe. Other results of the survey included the following:
· 81% of residents surveyed said they would be likely to provide information to police about criminal activity in their neighborhood.
· 77% of residents surveyed reported that police officers they’ve had contact with were generally fair and unbiased.
· 94% of those responding to the survey favored increasing de-escalation initiatives, including public education and police training, specifically regarding emergencies involving mental-illness engagements.
The responses from the community played a crucial role in determining the recommendations presented to and accepted by the city council, including a proposal addressing police engagements and de-escalation.
Police de-escalation policy
According to the consultant's report, the Oklahoma City Police Department has had de-escalation procedures since 2017. They require officers to use de-escalation in all “use of force” situations. However, the report found that de-escalation currently serves as a procedure rather than a policy.
The report recommends making de-escalation a core principle and value of the police department. It concluded and suggested that elevating de-escalation to the policy level would send a strong message to both the community and officers within the Oklahoma City Police Department.
Will there be change in Oklahoma City?
Pursuant to the Brookings Institution, "defund" does not equate to eliminating police departments or undermining community safety. "Defunding" seeks to reduce violent engagements between police officers and civilians through de-escalation policies and new policies and procedures for handling calls involving mental health situations.
Some of the recommendations from the study – such as requiring that police give warnings before resorting to deadly force and formalization and strengthening of the police department's force review board, among others – address issues raised by demonstrations that followed violent police-civilian engagements in Oklahoma City and other cities in recent years. The fact that the FOP has expressed a willingness to engage in conversations regarding the recommendations is encouraging. We will have to wait and see if they actually follow through.