Chief calls report ‘extremely flawed’ but data appears accurate in labeling OKC with second highest police killing rate

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Oklahoma City police arrest a person during a protest on May 30, 2020. NATHAN POPPE/The Curbside Chronicle

Oklahoma City Police Chief Wade Gourley disputed the accuracy of a widely shared report that claims his department has one of the highest rates of police killings but a review of the data by The Frontier showed the rate to be correct. 

The website MappingPoliceViolence.org reports Oklahoma City police have killed 48 people since 2013, the second highest rate in the nation based on the city’s population. Last year’s report had Oklahoma City with the highest rate, which has also been shared in recent media reports.

“This particular site and their data is extremely flawed,” Gourley told the city council during a Tuesday meeting. “When we drilled down into some of this data we found several instances where they attributed a death to us that wasn’t us.” 

Gourley claimed that some of the news articles the site relied on said a person was killed by police in an Oklahoma city, which can be confused for the actual city of Oklahoma City. 

Oklahoma City Police Chief Wade Gourley

“Some of it even used the term deputies, which we don’t have, so we knew they weren’t talking about us,” Gourley said.

The Frontier researched each name published by the website and found that all 48 were killed by an Oklahoma City police officer, according to multiple news outlets citing police officials. One person in 2017 died after shots were fired by both a police officer and an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper.  

Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon asked Gourley about the report during Tuesday’s meeting and told The Frontier she would like the chief to show his own evidence in disputing the report.

“It sort of seems like it should be a high priority for him to show why he disputes that report,” Hamon said. “People across the country right now are looking at that data.”

The report showed that 70 percent of those killed by Oklahoma City police were nonwhite. Nonwhite residents make up 33 percent of the city’s overall population. 

Gourley told the city council it was inappropriate to criticize his department for a high number of killings without looking at each case separately. 

“This includes the guy on I-35 who was shooting at cars and we had to stop that to save lives,” Gourley said.

Many of the police killings were deemed by investigators as an appropriate response to a suspect who was threatening the life of an officer or others. 

There are other cases where an unarmed person was killed or a suspect was dealing with a disability or mental health condition. In 2017, police killed a deaf man who approached officers with a metal pipe even as witnesses yelled to officers that the man could not hear their commands. 

“In those situations, very volatile situations, when you have a weapon out, you can get what they call tunnel vision or you can really lock into just the person that has the weapon that’d be the threat against you,” Capt. Bo Mathews told reporters after the incident.

According to the report, Tulsa ranks third in the nation. 

Use of force by police has received intense attention in recent days following the death of a Minneapolis man while in police custody. The incident set off a wave of protests across the country, including in Oklahoma where demonstrators have marched in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman and other cities. 

On Saturday, a mostly nonviolent protest ended at Oklahoma City’s police headquarters where officers fired tear gas in response to thrown objects. 

Tulsa police have also used force in response to recent demonstrations. 

During Tuesday’s council meeting, Gourley rebuked the action of the Minneapolis police officers, including the four who have been charged with murder. 

But he also defended his police department to some on the council who questioned the tactics used to police nonwhite communities.

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Ben Felder

Based in Oklahoma City, Ben Felder joined The Frontier in 2019 and covers education and politics. He previously covered education and government as an investigative reporter at The Oklahoman before becoming the newspaper’s news director. Felder can be reached at ben@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @benfelder_okc
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