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Tulsa reps oppose bill to make all police accountability bodies 2/3 cops

State Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) speaks Monday, March 13, 2023, on the House of Representatives floor at the Oklahoma Capitol.
Oklahoma Legislature
State Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) speaks Monday, March 13, 2023, on the House of Representatives floor at the Oklahoma Capitol.

Proponents say the bill would ensure public safety and an understanding of the job, but those against the bill say it would erode public trust and standards.

Tulsa lawmakers on Monday opposed a bill from a Broken Arrow state representative that would have members of law enforcement comprise more than half of local police advisory boards.

House Bill 2161 would guarantee that two-thirds of citizen advisory boards — or any public body that affects discipline or accountability — for police in Oklahoma be members of that police department.

While these boards only make recommendations, they can influence decisions around officer discipline or termination.

The bill passed off the House floor 54-36, which is a slimmer margin than many bills that draw debate between Republicans and Democrats. It now moves to the Senate.

Bill author Ross Ford (R-Broken Arrow), who has a law enforcement background, claimed his bill strives for community safety by ensuring law enforcement presence on the committees.

“We’re not getting the ones who are truly wanting to make the community safer and better. They’re looking for social justice,” Ford said.

Ford was joined by Rep. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane), who said the advisory boards need to have people who understand what law enforcement go through in their jobs. Humphrey also has a background in law enforcement.

Humphrey compared a citizens advisory board to a state medical board, which is entirely staffed with doctors who determine best practices for and sometimes discipline other doctors in the states they oversee. Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) and others pointed out that internal affairs divisions in police departments are already staffed entirely with police and actually hold the power to fire or discipline officers.

Nichols, the son of a police officer and a probation officer, said making an advisory board two-thirds law enforcement would undermine its mission to bridge gaps in the community.

“If we had a community legislative advisory board but there was two-thirds of us on there, people would tell us to go kick rocks, and they would be smart to do so,” Nichols said.

“People talk about government overreach. You don’t trust the government, but you want to put two-thirds of people from the government on a community advisory board. Makes no sense to me.”

Nichols also claimed the Oklahoma City police advisory board often comes back with recommendations that are not as harsh as internal affairs. Nichols spoke to OKCPD chief Wade Gourley about advisory boards during an interim study on police reform.

“If there's an officer charged with misconduct, let's let all the officers determine his fate. Let's let them make the recommendations. Why does that make sense? In whose head, in whose House, in whose universe?” said Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa).

Ford claimed the shooting of Terence Crutcher, who Goodwin brought up during debate, is an example of the system working well to determine if officers should be punished for force. Former Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby shot and killed Crutcher in 2016 and was later acquitted of a manslaughter charge brought forward by the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.

“To sit there and impugn officers that did their job and were cleared is wrong,” Ford said.

Ford also claimed internal affairs divisions have “done a great job nationwide” of determining appropriate discipline for officers, citing George Floyd’s murder and subsequent conviction of all four officers who either killed him or aided in his murder. Goodwin disagreed — she said she and others have had difficulty getting the number of excessive force cases from internal affairs.

If signed, the bill would affect the Office of the Independent Monitor for the Tulsa Police Department. In 2022, city councilors voted 7-2 against a charter amendment that would create the office, citing concerns over its language.

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS. A Tulsa native, Bryan worked at newspapers throughout Arkansas and in Norman before coming home to "the most underrated city in America." Several of Bryan's news stories have either led to or been cited in changes both in the public and private sectors.