Jason Rogers was mowing his aunt’s backyard in October 2014 when undercover Tulsa Police officers arrived to arrest him for an earlier domestic violence incident.
Rogers, they said, responded by pulling a handgun from his waistband, and two officers — Jeremy Ballard and Donald Cox — fired their weapons, striking Rogers four times.
One bullet struck Rogers in the left forearm, another in the groin. Two other shots entered his body through the back. Rogers was taken from the scene to a Tulsa hospital, where he later died.
In 2014, five suspects were shot and killed last year during encounters with Tulsa police officers, the most in any single year since at least 2005. Rogers, a 35-year-old with a previous domestic violence conviction on his record, was the last of those five.
All five shootings were ruled justified by the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.
Nearly 14 months later, the department has yet to see another fatal officer-involved shooting. In fact, TPD has entered December without a fatal officer involved shooting for the first time in at least 10 years.
Tulsa police have shot and killed 12 people while on duty since 2011, the last year the department had available data on individual victims. Between 2005 and 2010, there were 10 fatal officer involved shootings, though some of those include other agencies.
The officers involved in all of those shootings were cleared.
Shannon Kepler, a former Tulsa Police officer arrested and charged for allegedly killing a teenager last year, was off duty at the time of the homicide.
Tulsa Police Department Police Chief Chuck Jordan said the decline in fatal shootings this year parallels the department’s overall decline in use of force numbers.
Through November, the department recorded 233 use of force incidents. That puts it on pace to have the lowest total incidents involving force since before 2010.
“I think our overall use of force numbers are better because we’re practicing de-escalation techniques and are recognizing mental health better and targeting it from that perspective,” Jordan said.
De-escalation techniques among police officers have slowly grown in popularity as departments across the nation have sought to revise how they deal with suspects and the public.
Jordan is remarkably frank about the subject. To illustrate how the department speaks to officers about officer-involved shootings, he talks about what’s known in some circles as the “lawful, but awful” shooting.
“It’s not enough sometimes to say, ‘This shooting was justified,'” Jordan said. “I have to preface it by saying that most times the suspect determines the amount of force we’re going to use. But what we look at, also, is the first time the officer and the suspect meet and interact. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about the way a suspect is going to react to you, but sometimes that first interaction sets the path the entire thing follows.”
De-escalation techniques like Jordan talked about can range from the language an officer might use, or the cadence and volume of that language, to even body language. The idea, according to National Association of Social Workers guidelines, is to calm an explosive person or situation down, so rational discussion can take place.
“Our goal now is to find situations where we not only engage in de-escalation, but also better tactics so we don’t have to use deadly force,” Jordan said. “Sometimes we’ll review a shooting that was in policy, and we’ll find that maybe if someone used a little better tactics, they might not have been in that situation in the first place.”
In 2012, TPD Deputy Chief Dennis Larsen attended a de-escalation forum in Washington D.C. Larsen, who has a close relative who was diagnosed with autism, said the conference — attended by high-ranking law enforcement officers across the nation — hit close to home.
“He’s six years old, and I’ve watched the challenges he faces,” Larsen said. “I’ve had to learn that he needs space, and that he’s being bombarded by thousands of more sounds and stimuli than I am. I know that some of this training, you know, maybe you don’t pay 1,000 percent attention to it if it doesn’t affect you. Well, five or six years ago, it started to affect me.”
Larsen said that de-escalation techniques slowly started to make their way into local law enforcement training “five-to-seven years ago,” as officers started interacting more with the mentally ill, or with autistic civilians.
“The way the mental health system has changed in Oklahoma, there’s more placement of people into the public,” he said. “The number of calls we deal with from people with mental illness has gone up, just like the number of calls of people with autism have gone up. And each different type of call presents a different challenge for the officer.”
As an illustration, Larsen described an officer seeing a pedestrian walking in traffic, putting himself and other drivers at risk.
“In the old days, I’m talking the 50s and 60s, you just go lay hands on him and drag him out of the street,” he said. “Well, that’s the worst thing you can do for someone with autism.
“That’s something we’ve been building into our training, how to deal with getting someone out of harm’s way. De-escalation translates across the board to everyone. Not just criminals, but mentally ill and people suffering from autism.”
Fatal Tulsa Police shootings since 2011
Deandre Starks shot by Sgt. Mark Wollmershauser
Karina Sandoval Jiminez shot by Cpl. Dan Miller
Cody Young shot by Officer Gene Hogan
Mark Kelley shot by Officers Amy Jensen, Mitchell Franklin, and Rashena Smith
Jason Rogers shot by Officers Jeremy Ballard and Donald Cox
Juan Antonio Gonzalez shot by Officer Daniel Madewell
Phillip Doll shot by Officer J.C. Comstock
Bobby Sutton shot by Officer David Rey
Manuel Sanchez shot by Officer Warren Bigelow
Donald Hallett shot by Officers Matt Hart, Eric Spradlin, David Brice and Chris O’Keefe
Marvin Alexander shot by Sgt. Mark Wollmershauser
Lakeith Roland shot by Officer Adam Dawson
Billy Hamons was struck by eight bullets following a lengthy police chase. The officers names were not available.