In the moments after Police Chief Chuck Jordan learned that one of his officers had shot a man on a north Tulsa street two weeks ago, he made sure to call two people: Mayor Dewey Bartlett and City Councilor Jack Henderson.
“They are going to get questioned by the media, by their constituents,” Jordan said. “There is no way that a councilor or the mayor of the city of Tulsa should be uninformed about major events in the city.”
The calls may well end up being the most important of Jordan’s professional life, sparking as they did a series of phone calls, text messages and other communications among city officials and community leaders about how best to handle a brewing crisis.
Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, was dead, vanquished by a single bullet from the gun of white Police Officer Betty Shelby.
There was video of the shooting. Disturbing video. So disturbing that people would surely take to the streets and protest, and with those protests would come violence. Surely, Tulsa would blow up like Ferguson and Baton Rouge and Dallas and Charlotte. Such was the fear.
The reality, two weeks later, could not be more different. Tulsa had its protests, many of them, but they were peaceful protests.
Jordan, 68, isn’t taking any credit.
“We live in the best community in the United States,” he said. “The credit for this all goes to our community, because they want to move forward. They don’t want to destroy, they don’t want to inflict more pain on anybody. They want to move forward, and that is very significant.”
Speaking in his office at police headquarters Thursday, Jordan said now is not the time for the city or his department to be patting itself on the back and resting on its laurels.
“The chore is not over,” Jordan said. “I have said this before: Race relations are kind of like a marriage – if you don’t work on it every day, it’s not going to be as successful as you want it to be, and I very much want our race relations in this community to be successful.”
Tough Times, Easy Decision
Jordan keeps a police scanner on his desk next to his computer. He likes to listen to what his officers in the field are doing. It gives him, he says, a better feel for what’s going on in the streets than a written report dropped on his desk ever could.
“What is given to you in print might not reflect all the same nuance,” Jordan said.
On the night Terence Crutcher was shot, Jordan didn’t hear about it on his scanner. Sgt. Dave Walker sent him a text message. Jordan said he doesn’t go to the scene of every officer-involved shooting, but this one he did.
“I was a homicide sergeant long enough, I know what it’s like when the chief shows up on your scene,” he said. “This was not out of the ordinary, but this isn’t common, either.”
By the next day, Jordan had met with his deputy chiefs and other high-ranking officers to discuss the shooting.
“I was told about the video, and I was told that it was disturbing,” Jordan.
At that point Jordan made what he said was an easy decision – he was going to make the videos public.
“We decided we were going to be absolutely transparent,” Jordan said. “This is our community. They have an absolute right to see what we see until it gets into the investigative stage.
“With something like a video, I think they have an absolute right to see it. I think the fact that it is disturbing gave them more of an absolute right to see it.”
Jordan did not make his decision in a vacuum. He watches the news. He has seen the white cop-shoots-black citizen story unfold across the nation. And now his police force was part of that story.
“I think anytime you had a white police officer having to use deadly force on an African-American citizen, I think it’s time that the community stop and examine what could be the consequences,” he said.
That examination began Sunday, Sept. 18, two days after the shooting. Jordan and other officials, including Mayor Dewey Bartlett, met the Crutcher family at police headquarters to show them the police videos of the shooting. The videos were shown two more times that day – once to a large group of north Tulsa community leaders, many of them ministers, as well as city councilors.
Jordan said the goal of those viewings – and other efforts by his department to be transparent – was not to resolve what happened the night Crutcher died. It was to keep the lines of communication open.
“We know there are going to be conversations later, and we want them amenable to having conversations with us, and we want them to know that we want to talk to them and we are going to listen,” Jordan said.
It was not an easy conversation that day. Jordan couldn’t answer a lot of questions – and there were many – because the case was still under investigation. People were angry, hurt.
“It is hard to listen to things that aren’t comfortable to hear, but you have to,” Jordan said. “We are everybody’s police force and it’s an absolute obligation to listen to what they have to say.”
Jordan said he told the Crutcher family that the videos were disturbing and gave them the option of not watching them.
“One of the family members did choose to (leave the room), and I had a sergeant go out with her.” Jordan said.
The videos of the shooting were not released to the public until Monday, Sept. 19, three days after the incident occurred. Jordan said it took that long because he wanted to be sure his department had gathered every piece of video and other pertinent information regarding the case before he spoke about it publicly.
“I didn’t want something to come up later. I didn’t want to make statements of any kind that later I am going to have to backpedal,” Jordan said.
‘That concerned and scared me.’
Chuck Jordan became a police officer in 1969. By now, he’s seen it all.
That includes scandal and controversy within the department he has led since 2010. When he was still interim chief, in 2010, six current or former officers faced charges in a federal investigation that would send several officers to prison. Another five officers were accused of criminal behavior but were never charged. More recently another officer, Shannon Kepler, was charged with murdering his daughter’s boyfriend. Now this.
“It takes effect on you,” Jordan said of the Crutcher shooting and its aftermath. “This was a tragedy for our community. It was a tragedy for our Police Department. Just the hit of this much of my community hurting is painful for me.”
Jordan said he hasn’t slept well since the shooting occurred and his work days have been different. He’s spent a lot of time in the Police Department’s command center, and every morning he’s briefed the mayor on developments regarding the shooting and the protests and demonstrations in response to it.
He’s worried a lot, too. He thinks about the public his officers are sworn to protect, and the officers themselves. The community – including Black Lives Matter and We the People Oklahoma – has expressed itself peacefully and responsibly since the shooting, Jordan said, but it only takes one person to rewrite the story.
“You are constantly anticipating — could the next protest have some knucklehead in it that wants to hurt a police officer,” Jordan said. “Could there be an outlier. … That concerned and scared me.”
He seemed less concerned about the death threats he’s received since the Crutcher shooting, seven of them as of Thursday, dismissing them as part of the job.
It’s helped to hear from his colleagues. Jordan said he’s been contacted by police chiefs across the country, including retiring Dallas Police Chief David Brown.
“The moral support is certainly good,” Jordan said. “They kind of know what a chief is going through.”
What he hasn’t welcomed are comparisons of how Tulsa police handled their officer-involved shooting and how police in Charlotte, N.C., handled theirs. The shootings made for overlapping headlines across the nation for days.
“They have a different demographic, the situation was somewhat different,” Jordan said.
That said, he is indeed proud of how his officers have performed since the shooting. On Wednesday, he sent an email to all of his officers thanking them for their service.
“It was truly out of gratitude,” Jordan said. “I watched how they performed, how they interacted with the people who were protesting, and it was exemplary. … I could not have asked for a better job out of the police officers in the Tulsa Police Department.”
Two weeks of peaceful mourning and demonstrating don’t guarantee a lifetime of tranquility in the streets of Tulsa.
The criminal case against Betty Shelby is just beginning. Shelby, flanked by attorneys and law enforcement officers, pleaded not guilty Friday to the charge of first-degree manslaughter.
Life will go on, and with it will come new challenges for the city. Jordan knows this. But he said Thursday that he hopes the community has learned that his department will act honestly and openly in doing its job. That includes in the Shelby case.
“We are charged statutorily with the responsibility of that investigation, and we are going to do it absolutely without bias,” he said. “It will just be conducted as it should be – as an objective investigation, and I hope people see that.”
The department’s response to the Crutcher shooting has reinforced Jordan’s belief that the department’s success and failures are directly related to the relationships – or a lack thereof – that it has been able to establish with the community.
So building those relationships must continue, the police chief said. It’s one reason he is in favor of creating a citizens advisory board.
“I don’t live in Tulsa north,” Jordan said. “I can’t experience what they have experienced, so I have got to have someone that is living in that area or working in that area or their constituencies in that area to give me that kind of feedback.”
More and better community policing would also help, Jordan said. As part of the Vision Tulsa sales-tax package approved by voters in April, the Police Department will receive funding to hire 160 additional police officers in the next five years or so.
By community policing, Jordan does not mean officers’ shooting hoops with kids – “That’s public relations,” he says – but officers’ getting out of their cars and talking to the people they serve, whether it be a business owner or a man watering his lawn.
“You would have time to contact the community,” with more officers, Jordan said. “Right now, over 80 percent of our time is spent on calls.”
All of this would help break down implicit biases – and, yes, everyone has them, Jordan said.
“When you look somebody in the eye and you start to talk to them about the Red Sox or Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys or whatever, it changes the whole dynamic of the relationship,” Jordan said. “You start to get to know each other.”