Hours after the Tulsa Police Department drew public criticism due to a blog written by one of its division commanders, chief Chuck Jordan addressed several hundred attendees at the Greenwood Cultural Center during a panel discussion on police violence Tuesday night.
“On behalf of our officers, black lives matter to us,” Jordan said.
His statements drew uproarious applause and helped soothe some of the tension created by Maj. Travis Yates’ “We are at war” article on the popular police website lawofficer.org.
Yates, who was a panelist at Tuesday night’s discussion, was lightly booed when introduced and drew criticism at the start of the forum for his editorial he wrote online that said police are “at war” following the recent fatal shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
— Jarrel Wade (@JWPrairieDog) July 20, 2016
Yates apologized for the article, saying he “doesn’t want it to take away from work that’s been done in the community.” He wrote the editorial immediately after he learned of the police officers being fatally shot in Baton Rouge and was angry at the time, he said.
State Rep. Regina Goodwin, who attended Tuesday’s discussion, emailed him to tell him the article was divisive.
“If she said that, it was,” Yates said.
The group of speakers, which included Yates, TPD Capt. Walter Busby, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Loretta Radford, City Manager Jim Twombly, public defender David Phillips, District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, and Sheriff Vic Regalado, focused on improving law enforcement’s relationship with the Tulsa community, addressing racial tensions and making change.
Maj. Travis Yates introduces himself to light boos pic.twitter.com/PzhoUXZRAq
— Dylan Goforth (@DGoforth918) July 19, 2016
The two law enforcement agencies promised to look into policy changes, such as officers better identifying themselves during traffic stops, improved de-escalation training and publishing videos that show how officers and citizens should behave during an arrest or traffic stop.
The forum was the second the chamber hosted, with a similar discussion on police violence last week following the recent deaths of two black men who were shot and killed by police officers in Baton Rouge, La., and suburban St. Paul, Minn.; and the fatal shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
Though the panelists didn’t always have a solution for each problem or concern, they agreed that acknowledging Tulsa’s issues was a step in the right direction.
“This could be history for Tulsa,” said Yates at the closing of the discussion. “I want you to hold me accountable. I work for you. I work for the community.”
In an effort to improve communication with the community, several panel members gave out their cell phone numbers to the audience, including Yates, Regalado and Kunzweiler.
DeVon Douglass, the Greenwood Chamber Young Professionals Government Affairs chairwoman, moderated the event.
When audience members were upset at panel members’ answers, she would put the discussion back on track, reminding people that although she understood their anger, “tonight we want to actually make steps toward changing Tulsa.”
Panel members also discussed the importance of community policing in Tulsa.
Busby said it’s important for police officers to engage communities before there’s a problem.
“We need to see each other outside of our business relationship,” Busby said. “Most of the time when we show up, it’s not a good day.”
Regalado said he was in favor of community policing, but called it a “two-way street.”
“You cannot simply point that finger without having someone point it right back at you,” he said. “It doesn’t mean what law enforcement can do for you today. It’s what we can do for each other.”
Several statements made by the panelists were jeered by attendees. Yates, asked why it seemed police were more likely to quickly escalate to deadly force when confronted with a black suspect than with a white suspect, asked rhetorically if police “came into contact with more blacks because of the high probability for violent crime in those neighborhoods.”
Regalado, too, drew jeers when he discussed what to do during a traffic stop. The sheriff told the crowd that if they are upset at the way an officer or deputy who pulled them over is behaving, “that place is not the place to solve that problem,” and urged them to go along with the traffic stop. A man in the crowd then yelled out a statement to the effect of not wanting “to get murdered by the police,” and Regalado countered that anyone not wanting to be shot should just not reach for a gun.