Tulsa World by Curtis Killman - August 14, 2011
The number of complaints lodged by the public against the Tulsa Police Department decreased after federal officials began investigating the department and other local law enforcement, according to a Tulsa World analysis of police data. Some say the reasons for the decline in complaints from the public are probably not related to the federal probe, while others believe the two are connected. Indeed, since the FBI conducted an undercover drug sting in 2009, the number of citizen-generated complaint cases closed by police investigators declined 42 percent, according to the analysis. Some say complaints decreased because the public was fearful. "I think there are going to be people who are not going to complain because they think right now it is too hot to complain," City Councilor Jack Henderson said. "They may be afraid." But others dismissed the federal probe as the reason for any decrease in complaint numbers. Tulsa Police Capt. Jonathan Brooks noted that police layoffs in early 2010 "most likely" affected the decline in the number of arrests from 2009 to 2010. The decline in arrests, in turn, potentially contributed to the decline in filed complaints, Brooks said. Records show arrests have been on the decline in recent years, but the World analysis indicates that the number of complaints had begun to decline well before the layoffs occurred. The number of complaint investigations closed by police peaked in the spring of 2009, just before the FBI conducted an undercover drug sting operation at a local motel, the analysis shows. The sting and subsequent federal grand jury probe resulted in the indictment of six Tulsa police officers and a former federal agent. Two officers were acquitted and another convicted in one trial, while two other officers are currently on trial in federal court. A sixth officer has pleaded guilty.
An analysis of officer complaint data indicates: Most complaints originate from north Tulsa. Complaints from the public outnumber administrative-initiated complaints. Few complaints from the public against police are sustained. Few officers have been investigated for lying. About three-fourths of officers have never had a complaint filed against them.
Most officers are cleared- Since 2005, about 1,100 officer complaint cases have been closed by internal affairs investigators for the Tulsa Police Department. Members of the public initiate more than two-thirds of all police complaints, a World analysis found. The complainants range in age from two 15-year-olds who in 2008 filed unrelated complaints against officers based out of north Tulsa's Gilcrease Division - once called Uniform Division North - to a 75-year-old man who complained about a Tulsa Gilcrease Division officer in 2009. In the cases involving the teenagers, one a black male and the other a black female, complaints of excessive force and violation of an unspecified procedure were determined by investigators to be unfounded and closed, records show. The complaint filed by the 75-year-old white man against an officer for violation of an arrest procedure was similarly determined to be unfounded. Blacks filed about 46 percent of complaints, while the black population accounts for about 16 percent of the city population, according to the latest Census Bureau figures. The Gilcrease Division was the subject of 42 percent of the public complaints associated with the three patrol divisions and 35 percent of all complaints from the public. Officers who patrolled the other two divisions made up the balance of all citizen complaints from 2005 to 2010 and were evenly split. Since May 2004, procedural violations and poor public relations were the top two types of complaints from the public, with 258 and 243 complaints respectively. Once a person files a complaint, internal affairs takes up the case. More often than not the officer is cleared. During the 19 months prior to the FBI sting, 284 citizen complaint investigations were completed. Investigators assigned some level of blame to officers in seven cases, or 2 percent of them. From May 2009 through December 2010, 16 of 166 citizen complaints have been sustained against officers, or 10 percent of the cases. While complaints from the public seldom result in the officer being found to be at fault, complaints of an officer using excessive force that result in discipline are even more rare, data show. Since 2005, individuals filed 183 cases that included allegations of excessive force. The cases named a total of 199 officers. Four cases, or less than 3 percent of the allegations, resulted in the officer being disciplined, according to the World analysis. In three of the four cases, officers were given counseling. The officer was suspended in the fourth case. The president of the Tulsa chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said he thinks he knows one reason why fewer complaints are being filed. "When you complain about an officer in your community and it's to no avail, after a while you get the message," said Warren Blakney, who is also pastor of the North Tulsa Peoria Church of Christ. Blakney said believes the federal probe has had some impact on the number of people who filed complaints. "I think there is probably some relationship you can find between that," Blakney said. "I do know that they (residents) were hopeful that those officers that had been really intimidating factors in our community ... the sting would take some of those officers off the street."
New policy is enacted- Separate figures supplied by the police indicate a decline in the number of complaints filed by the public while department-initiated investigations increased from 2009 to 2010. The number of complaint cases filed by the public against Tulsa Police declined from 143 cases to 108 cases, according to statistics supplied by police. Meanwhile, the number of department-initiated investigations of officers opened increased from 56 to 92. Brooks said it was impossible to draw a conclusion as to the impact of the FBI sting on police operations "as there were so many other variables at that time." The federal grand jury probe launched in 2009 resulted in accusations that some officers had routinely lied during drug investigations. The revelations prompted Police Chief Chuck Jordan to enact a no-tolerance policy for lying. While police already had policies and procedures that prohibited dishonest behavior, the policy was seen as a way to delineate a more even application of that policy. Since the no-tolerance policy was enacted in July 2010, the list of closed cases includes two officers who were accused of lying by members of the public, records show. In both of those cases, police investigators exonerated or failed to sustain the claim against the officers. When asked about the decrease in officer complaints from the public, Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police President Phil Evans said the FBI probe was probably not the reason. "I doubt it; these things tend to run cyclically," Evans said. Evans did say that officers generally were not happy during former Chief Ron Palmer's last couple of years in office. "Palmer's last couple of years here were tough on everyone," Evans said. Morale was "in the toilet." Palmer resigned in January 2010 at the request of newly elected Mayor Dewey Bartlett.
Police collect data- The Tulsa World was unable to determine the result of about 400 complaint cases because data supplied from TPD did not list the final determination. The World requested outcomes for the undetermined cases, but Tulsa Police declined to provide the information, citing a 50 percent decrease in data analysis staffing in recent months. The Tulsa World findings related to complaints were part of an analysis of computerized data made available by the Tulsa Police Department as part of a civil rights lawsuit consent decree. The consent decree, which stems from a lawsuit brought by black officers, included a requirement that several types of data be collected by police and made available to the public in a computerized format. In addition to complaint-related data, other data included information related to arrests, pedestrian stops and officer promotions. The city began collecting the data in 2004. A federal judge in September 2010 approved a final settlement of the discrimination lawsuit. While the lawsuit settlement did not require police to continue to make the data available to the public, the department has thus far agreed to requests for information from the World. Curtis Killman 918-581-8471, firstname.lastname@example.org