The Tulsa Police Department is considering the creation of a citizens advisory board, Deputy Chief Jonathan Brooks said Monday.
“It’s definitely an option that is on the table that we are seriously looking at,” Brooks said. “Like anything, we have to make sure we have all of the options on the table and be sure we choose the best course for Tulsa.”
Brooks stressed that discussions are in the early stages and that no decisions have been made regarding the make-up, purview or authority of the advisory board. The department plans to look at different models of advisory boards as well as best practices used in other cities, Brooks said.
“We are going to have to do a little research to make sure we do it right,” he said.
The community will be involved in the discussions, Brooks said.
“We are going to have to get independent stakeholders, members of the community and get them in the process,” Brooks said. “The way that would look I can’t answer.”
Several community leaders, including ministers serving predominantly African-American churches in north Tulsa, have called for more citizen involvement in the review of police practices in the wake of the Sept. 16 police shooting of an unarmed black man.
Terence Crutcher, 40, was killed after being shot once by Officer Betty Shelby. Shelby has been charged with first-degree manslaughter and is scheduled to be arraigned Friday.
Brooks said the creation of a citizens advisory board has been on the Police Department’s radar for a while but that the Crutcher shooting “changed the closeness and seriousness of it for us.”
The Rev. Anthony Scott, pastor of First Baptist Church North Tulsa, welcomed the news.
“I would whole-heartedly embrace that idea,” Scott said.
An advisory board that includes members of the north Tulsa community has the potential to improve relations between the police and residents of that area, Scott said. He added that he would be willing to be part of the advisory board if asked.
“I have a lot of tasks on my hands but that would be a new responsibility I would take,” Scott said.
City Councilor Jack Henderson, who represents the district in which the Crutcher shooting occurred, said he was glad to hear that Tulsa police are considering the option.
“That’s good because that is one of the things that I had thought would help us — community policing and the citizens review board made up of citizens from all over the city,” Henderson said.
Henderson said he believes a review board could be as beneficial to the police as it is to the people they serve. One of the objectives of such boards should be to help set the record straight, Henderson said, and that could benefit an officer who has been unfairly accused of a wrongdoing.
“I just think that it is time we take a look at it and be open and honest about how other cities can do it and (that) it has been a success in other cities,” Henderson said.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett said Monday that he did not have a problem with the idea but noted that the city has other institutions, including the Mayor’s Police and Community Coalition, that do work similar to what a citizens advisory board might do.
“As far as I know, nothing is off limits,” Bartlett said of MPACC, adding: “If they need to have another one, that OK with me.”
Hannibal Johnson, facilitator of MPACC, said the organization works to create better relationships between the community and the Police Department and occasionally offers policy recommendations such as the use of body cameras. But the group does not review officer-involved shootings or complaints against the Police Department, Johnson said.
“We talk about those (types of) issues but we don’t review police actions,” he said.
Mayor-Elect G.T. Bynum said the creation of civilian oversight mechanisms is one of the recommendations presented in the final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
“After I take office, I will work with community leaders and our Police Department leadership to review those recommendations and determine which are proper to implement in Tulsa,” Bynum said.
Tulsa would not be the first Oklahoma municipality to establish a citizens advisory board for its police department. Oklahoma City and Midwest City each has one.
Work on the Oklahoma City Citizens Advisory Board began in 2002 after the beating of a black man by officers was caught on tape.
Board member Don Graham said Monday that it took a coalition of community leaders about four years to get the advisory board up and running. Graham has been on it since its inception.
“I would encourage any city (thinking of creating an advisory board) to reach out to all parts of the community to have a voice in this process, that they go to all parts of the community and make it as independent as it can be,” Graham said.
Oklahoma City’s Citizen Advisory Board is made up of no more than 13 people – 12 voting members and one non-voting member, according its website. Voting members are appointed by the community coalition; the police chief appoints the non-voting member.
The advisory board reviews the investigative processes and completed investigations of formal citizen complaints, allegations of excessive force, officer-involved shootings and other problem incidents.
“If we think it wasn’t handled correctly, some procedural matter, then we can go back to the Police Department or city manager (and say) it needs to be looked at more closely,” Graham said.
The advisory board also takes citizen complaints directly. Graham said that helps address another police-related problem that sometimes arises in the community — citizens’ reluctance to go directly to the police with their complaints.
The OKC advisory board is independent but has no authority to change policies or recommend disciplinary action.
The advisory board does not give opinions as to whether a police shooting, for example, was justified, but instead limits itself to whether police policies were followed.
The board’s meetings are not open to the public because discussions often involve personnel records and sensitive material related to investigations, Graham said.
But, he added, “sometimes in the past we have met with the press” to discuss policy recommendations.