Oklahoma City residents spent several hours Tuesday expressing concern about local policing practices during a virtual meeting of the city council, rebuking police for their response to protests in recent days and a request by the police chief for a funding increase.
“The police do not protect our communities,” said Katrina Ward, an Oklahoma City resident who addressed the council through a Zoom call.
Residents from across the city, especially from the city’s northeast community, complained of excessive force by police that targets people of color and other vulnerable residents.
The public comment session lasted most of the day and came after police chief Wade Gourley presented his proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which seeks a 3.45 percent funding decrease, largely due to a decline in sales tax revenue.
Residents asked for some of the police department’s more than $225 million budget to be diverted to parks, education and mental health services.
Council members James Cooper, JoBeth Hamon and Nikki Nice also questioned the funding levels of the police department.
The budget presentation is an annual ritual as the council prepares for the next fiscal year budget, which will be up for final adoption on June 16.
But this year’s presentation from the police chief came after days of protests against police brutality that, at times, included clashes with police.
Over the weekend Oklahoma City police used tear gas and force to remove protestors, some who were peacefully protesting in the street and other times responding to individuals who threw objects at officers.
The protests were sparked by the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, which resulted in one officer being charged with murder.
Gourley opened his budget presentation by acknowledging the injuries to officers across the country, including in his own department.
He also rebuked the killing of Floyd.
“Every officer that has approached me … not one has made a comment in support or to justify what happened in Minnesota,” Gourley said.
On Monday, leaders with the Oklahoma City chapter of Black Lives Matter asked Gourley to resign because of his department’s response to local protests.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, Gourley said he did not feel a need to apologize.
“I won’t apologize for those officers … I don’t think I have anything to apologize for right now,” Gourley said.
During the council meeting dozens of police officers gathered on the steps of city hall to show support for Gourley.
More than 100 Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police members gathered on the steps of City Hall this morning to support OKCPD Police Chief Wade Gourley. OKC FOP President John George released the following statement about the Chief's leadership and addressing recent protests. pic.twitter.com/VIfGQAsRVF
— OKC FOP (@OKC_FOP) June 2, 2020
“Our organization does not always agree with our chiefs, and Chief Gourley is no exception,” said John George, president of the local police union. “However, we will defend him when he is attacked for the way he and our command have led our department through these protests, which have unfortunately turned into riots. We see no reason for the chief to apologize, much less resign.”
During a rally on Sunday, Councilwoman Hamon questioned the funding of the police department.
“When I see that our parks and rec budget is only $32 million and our police budget is more $200 million what are we prioritizing?” Hamon said. “We are not prioritizing our communities and we are not prioritizing our people.”
During Tuesday ‘s meeting Hamon said she believed an increase in policing leads to an increase in crime because of the burden of court costs and a lack of mental health care.
“You have to recognize it as a direct connection,” Hamon said. “We are responding to crisis because we haven’t funded the other things that prevent the crisis.”
Hamon also asked Gourley about a report by MappingPoliceViolence.org that showed Oklahoma City had the highest rate of police killings in the nation.
Gourley disputed that report.
“We found several incidents that attributed a death to us that had nothing to do with us,” Gourley said. “This particular site and their data is extremely flawed.”
Councilman Cooper said he wanted to see a deeper commitment to community policing and incentivizing officers to live in the communities they serve.
“I think community policing might be the best way forward, not just for a unit of the police but where every single police officer is engaged in community policing,” Cooper said.
Councilwoman Nice urged Gourley to strongly consider the words of citizens who expressed fear of police.
“These (comments) are coming from experiences of people who have lived this trauma,” Nice said.
Editor’s note: An early version of this story inaccurately said the police chief’s budget request was an increase. It was a 3.45 percent decrease.