Depending on who asks, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office plans to be back in action providing security for the Tulsa State Fair.
The Sheriff’s Office has told fair officials that its reserve deputy program, suspended since May, will be back by Oct. 1 when the fair kicks off.
But asking the Sheriff’s Office directly elicits a more uncertain answer. The reserve deputy program, a group of more than 100 volunteers who train with the Sheriff’s Office, routinely provides security for the fair.
All reserve deputies have to go through mandatory training before the program reopens, Reserve Deputy Coordinator Justin Green said earlier this week. That training, however, does not begin until next week.
The sheriff’s office is also awaiting the results of a comprehensive agency-wide study being conducted by the Texas-based Community Safety Institute. CSI, favored by Sheriff Stanley Glanz, was selected by county commissioners in June to conduct the audit of TCSO at a cost of $75,000.
Terry Simonson, director of governmental affairs for TCSO, said last week he heard the study might be completed sometime in September. The contract was finalized in July, though at the time county officials said would take up to five months for the audit to be completed.
That timeline would leave open the possibility that the reserve program could be operational by October. However, if the suggested changes to the program are extensive, it could be much longer.
“There’s potential that (the reserves) could be back by the fair,” Green said. “There’s potential that they could not. It depends on when the administration is ready to reinstate the program and unfortunately at this time I still do not have an answer for that.”
Sarah Thompson, Marketing Supervisor for the Tulsa State Fair, said Wednesday fair officials have been told by the sheriff’s office that reserve deputies will be back on duty by Oct. 1, when the fair begins its 11 day run.
The sheriff’s office has often boasted of the low crime at at the fair, and has credited the reserves, who patrol the Expo Square grounds in golf carts, as being part of that success.
“I know the fair board has said that if the reserves can not be used, they will do whatever needs to be done,” Thompson said. “There will be security there.”
The reserve deputy program has been the focus of public scrutiny since the April 2 shooting death of Eric Harris by Robert Bates, a 74-year-old reserve who was working undercover on TCSO’s Violent Crimes Task Force.
Bates, a wealthy insurance executive, was a longtime friend of the sheriff’s and his campaign manager.
Bates was charged with second-degree manslaughter, has pleaded not guilty, and is awaiting trial. Officials haven’t said whether Bates is still part of the reserve deputy program.
On at least one occasion, the Sheriff’s Office has quietly allowed a reserve deputy to return after an on-duty shooting.
While serving as a reserve deputy in 2005, County Assessor Ken Yazel accompanied a group of reserves and deputies to serve an arrest warrant in Okmulgee County. After the man, Danny Foutch, fled from his trailer and ran toward the woods, Yazel shot Foutch in the buttocks.
Yazel told investigators he shot Foutch after Foutch ran into another reserve deputy and was trying to take his weapon. That reserve deputy, Brian Pounds, also worked for Yazel in the assessor’s office.
In July, The Frontier reported that reserve deputies had drawn weapons nearly 50 times in the last five years, though Bates was the only one to shoot someone in that timeframe.
A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Justin Green, said “reality-based training” for the reserves is set to start the second week of September. It will entail having the reserve deputies face situations such a suspect taking a hostage.
Glanz described the training in May as, “You have to make a decision on when to pull your gun, or are you going to use your taser,” he said. “And when you make a decision one way or the other, and you change your mind, how do you transition? We’ll get people used to thinking that way.”