To remain certified, every Oklahoma law enforcer must receive 25 hours of “continuing education,” including two hours of mental health training. Who’s checking to make sure the training is appropriate?
“The honor system,” according to the operations manager of a state agency tasked with law enforcement curriculum accreditation.
“I’m afraid she’s going to get hurt,” he told the dispatcher.
Broken Arrow Police Department Captain Stephen Garrett was technically assigned as a backing officer, but he was close to the home and was the first officer to arrive at the scene.
When Garrett got out of his car, he said Ruth Samuel approached him and said that everything was “okay, we don’t need you here.”
But Nathan Samuel then began walking from inside the house toward the front door. He was carrying a knife.
Garrett shot Nathan Samuel, who a Broken Arrow Police Department investigator testified was 27 feet away, killing him.
Garrett was placed on administrative leave while the shooting was investigated. The shooting was eventually ruled justified by the district attorney, and Garrett returned to work. A federal judge later ruled in Garrett’s favor in a civil suit.
A decade later, Garrett is now training other officers. A flyer posted on Facebook by Scott Wood, an Oklahoma attorney who handled the civil case against Garrett and often represents police officers following officer-involved shootings, advertises Garrett’s class, called “Officer Involved Shooting: The Aftermath.”
The training boasts “Never before seen perspective … from Captain Garrett including his experience that night and the aftermath of his experience with the civil trial.”
At the bottom of the flyer, in red font, it notifies officers that if they attend the class they will satisfy their mandated two hours of yearly mental health training. It’s one of dozens of options Oklahoma law enforcers have to receive the mental health training state law requires them to obtain each year.
But the training options offered through CLEET run the gamut from the useful sounding to the head-scratching. And while the state-funded agency is in charge of making sure every certified peace officer in the state has received their required training, CLEET cautions on its website that it does not necessarily approve of the training it promotes to Oklahoma officers. There is an “accreditation officer” at CLEET, but agency officials told The Frontier their job is less about conducting quality checks on continuing education options for law enforcement, and more about cataloging various options for officers to take.
Shannon Butler, CLEET’s operations manager, said “there’s not really a lot of direction on what (officers) have to take.”
Garrett did not respond to requests for comment on the training, but Wood said the presentation deals with how Garrett handled the fallout of the shooting and the trial, as well as the long-term effect both events had on his life.
“I sat through Garrett’s training before, when he gave it a couple months back. It’s really good,” Wood told The Frontier. “He talks about how the lady who was being choked, he had stopped her I think three times since the shooting for traffic stops. The first couple times, when he realized it was her, he just let her go. But the third time, he said they actually stopped and talked. It was really insightful, from an officer’s perspective.”
The flyer advertising Garrett’s training features two smiling images of Garrett and a meme where an officer is pointing a handgun directly at a camera. The words “Sheep hate the sheepdog until the wolf is at the gate” appear on the image.
In 2008, Oklahoma lawmakers mandated that in order for a full-time peace officer to remain certified, the officer had to take 25 hours of CLEET (Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training) accredited training, two hours of which had to pertain to mental health.
“It’s inevitable that every day a law enforcement officer will come in contact with someone in a mental health crisis or in mental distress,” Mental Health Oklahoma Director Michael Brose told The Frontier. “They need the best training you can get.”
Under “accreditation” on CLEET’s website, there’s a note: “There is no intent, expressed or implied that accreditation/catalog indicates or in any way conveys CLEET approval of concepts, practices, handouts, reference sources, methods, techniques, products, or devices, presented in CLEET accredited/catalogued courses.
CLEET’s website states “Accredited/cataloged lesson plans or curriculum are not reviewed to determine if they are current with respect to ordinances, law, statutes, or court decisions. It is the responsibility of any individual or agency … to conduct an appropriate review to determine that material is current, legally correct, and not in conflict with agency or department policy, procedures, rules or regulations.”
Under “Current Mental Health Training Options” on CLEET’s website, there are offerings that seem appropriate, such as classes on “Understanding Hostage Incidents,” “Understanding Anxiety Disorders,” or “Understanding Depression and Bipolar Disorder.”
Another section of CLEET’s website offers other reasonable ways to earn mental health credit, classes like “The Look and Feel of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” or “Suicide Prevention, Intervention, and postvention.”
But many offerings don’t appear to center around mental health. “Report Writing and Documentation for Oklahoma Detention Facilities” satisfies one hour of continuing mental health training, as does “Conducting Strip Searches.”
“There are very few requirements,” Butler said. “Every officer has to have 25 hours of annual training, and two of those have to be in mental health … the Legislature has basically left that up to the officers as far as what they have to take.”
But CLEET has the final say as to what is and isn’t acceptable. Butler said in mid-August that curriculum is presented to CLEET from various outside agencies, and Tami Burnett, whose title is “curriculum specialist/training course accreditation,” reviews courses for the agency.
But, Butler cautioned, “it’s not an accreditation in the truest sense of the word.”
“We take it on good faith,” he said of submissions to CLEET. “There is a statute that says that giving fraudulent information to a state agency is a crime, so we rely on that. If we found that something was not appropriate, we could discontinue it at the very least.”
Butler said the outside companies who submit coursework to CLEET “have to certify that these documents are checked and retained by that department and tell us who is taking which courses.
“So if we get a submission like ‘Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse, we aren’t going to accredit that,” he said. “But mostly we take it on good faith.”
Burnett told The Frontier in mid-August that CLEET has had “some issues” with outside companies offering online mental health training that didn’t “qualify for mental health credit.”
Wood told The Frontier that he has written and taught CLEET-sanctioned courses in the past.
“I would just send them my Powerpoint, and they would send me a (tracking) number back,” he said. “I never received any commentary or criticism, it was just ‘Hey, here’s your number.’”
While larger agencies can often offer better training, Wood said, smaller agencies face larger challenges.
“You know, there are these smaller agencies that are like eight people, and they’re totally dependent on CLEET to get their (continuing education,)” Wood said. “The level of training officers get across the state, let’s say there’s just a very wide spectrum in quality.”
Inside a small joint-office building in Oklahoma City is the Oklahoma Regional Community Policing Institute. It advertises itself as “a partnership of organizations dedicated to advancing the practice of law enforcement through real world application and institutionalization of the community policing concept.”
The company is a “private nonprofit that does training for police and security across the state,” said Linda Terrell, ORCPI’s executive director. She said the company used to offer a variety of classes that dealt with domestic violence and sexual assault. But as federal funding dried up, the classes went away.
The ORCPI website, like the building ORCPI is in, is spartan. The homepage has three stock photos of police officers — a white man, a white woman, and a black man — and includes links to two online courses it offers and an email address and phone number.
One course ORCPI offers is on “Identity Theft,” the other is “The Muslim World & Radical Islam.”
“The Muslim World & Radical Islam” counts for eight hours of “CLEET credit including 1 hour of Mental Health,” the website states. The course, available for $25 online, features more than 300 slides that ask questions like “What is a Muslim?” and “Where do Muslims live?”
The course description on the CLEET website states: “The purpose of this online course is to familiarize the participant with Muslim history and religion, the world-wide distribution of the Muslim faith, and to give an overview of some of the radical groups within the Muslim faith and their activities. The course includes maps and readings on Muslim history and radical groups.”
Terrell, who said she has been with ORCPI for six years, said the course was created before her time with the company.
“My understanding was that ORCPI created it themselves,” she said. “The mental health aspect is really focused more on understanding different cultures so there’s less stereotyping and prejudice, maybe. It focuses on trying to raise awareness around Muslim culture and therefore increase commonalities and reduce differences.”
With references to both the peaceful existence of most Muslims, as well as pictures of Osama Bin Laden and images from 9/11, the training offers a slide with the following definition: “a terrorist is one that engages in acts or an act of terrorism.”
“It’s been our observation for quite a while that what qualifies for two hours of CLEET certified mental health training, that what is acceptable for that, it can vary,” Brose said.
“The Muslim World & Radical Islam” course is openly available in a PDF on the ORCPI website.
Adam Soltani, the director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said he was troubled by what he saw when he read through the course.
“It’s definitely biased and it’s not the kind of presentation, based off not just my experience with CAIR and my civil rights work, but also with interacting with law enforcement, that should be given to police officers,” Soltani said.
“There’s a correct way to talk about Muslim theology and the Muslim community and for lack of a better term, ‘radicalization,’ than to use this biased and inaccurate information.”
Soltani said that, for instance, the course states that the word “jihad” is used 60 times in the Quran “and means holy war.”
“That’s not true,” Soltani said. “It means to struggle and strive, they are using a mistranslation of the word for some reason.”
He said the course reminds him of a time in 2013 when former Oklahoma Rep. John Bennett gave a CLEET training on the floor of the Oklahoma Capitol building. Bennett, who served as a United States Marine before becoming a legislator, had a long history of anti-Muslim statements, including calling the religion “a cancer that needs to be cut out of society.”
“I was there for eight hours, and it was eight hours of bashing Muslims,” Soltani said. “And it was a class for law enforcement officers. It was one of the most outrageous things I’d ever seen, one of the most hate-filled things I’ve ever witnessed. He was saying things like all mosques in Oklahoma had been infiltrated and were jihadist training grounds. It was absurd.
“I think CLEET has problems with their accreditation process.”
As far as Brose is concerned, the more updated the training on mental health provided to Oklahoma officers, the better off everyone will be.
And he said Mental Health Oklahoma is able and willing to assist CLEET in either offering training or reviewing mental health coursework being offered to Oklahoma officers.
They’re just waiting to be asked.
“They’ve never invited us in and said ‘Hey, would you ever be a resource for us to help us or to evaluate these submissions to see if they’re suitable,’” Brose said. “We’d be happy to do that.”
Brose said that years ago, when Stanley Glanz was sheriff in Tulsa County, he invited Mental Health Oklahoma and Tulsa’s Family & Children’s Services to do two hours of mental health training for TCSO deputies.
“We felt like we were able to give them really good training, which by the way was pretty basic stuff, but it provided a really good foundation,” Brose said.
Casey Roebuck, TCSO spokeswoman, told The Frontier that TCSO currently provides additional mental health training to every patrol deputy, as do most of the larger agencies across the state.
Brose said Mental Health Oklahoma has occasionally been brought in by other law enforcement agencies to offer mental health training.
“We run into this over and over, you see it in the general public and really everywhere, just how little understanding people have about what mental illness really is and how it works,” Brose said. “We’re dealing with very fundamental but important ideas.
“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the classes we’ve done. They’ll say ‘This is better than what we normally get. Normally we get a tape, and they put it on because CLEET has certified the tape however long ago, so it counts for continuing education.’ The tape has been certified so they play it every year.”
Brose said proper training for officers is more important now than ever.
“From our standpoint, we know the culture is dealing with issues with untreated mental illness, and law enforcement is being asked to respond to these complex situations, often without proper training,” Brose said. “What these agencies should be saying, now more than ever, is that two hours is the extreme bare minimum of training necessary. They really need to get the best people, the top people, in to do these trainings. Not just any old whatever.”
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