Council Could Decide Next Week Whether to Start Investigation Tied to Tulsa Equality Indicators

Jan 10, 2019

Credit Community Service Council

City councilors are expected to decide next week whether to move ahead with an investigation concerning racial disparities in arrests and police use of force revealed in a 2018 report.

Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper has pushed for the hearings for several months after the Equality Indicators report showed stark racial disparities in youth and adult arrests and in officer use of force. Under an investigation, the council may subpoena witnesses and compel testimony.

"But we don’t have to use that authority. I don’t want this to be something that’s looked upon as adversarial. Because it’s not. It is an honest discussion about concerns and, more importantly, next steps, best practices of what we can do," Hall-Harper said.

Hall-Harper proposed to her colleagues this week at least four public hearings to address the disparities. Black Tulsans are five times more likely than Latinos and Asians, and twice as likely as whites to experience officer use of force. Black adults are arrested more than twice as often as white adults in Tulsa, and black children are arrested more than three times as often than white children.

Councilor Phil Lakin said a less-formal task force could tackle those issues.

"We’ve been able to … decide on some major outcomes related to trash or the number of police officers that we need in our services, or how much the south Tulsa dam and the new low-water dam are," Lakin said.

Councilor Lori Decter Wright said something should happen before the next report comes out in April.

"At least we can all agree that it is our responsibility in the areas identified — theme 4 is justice, theme 6 is services — that is incumbent upon us as the legislative body to look into those things," Decter Wright said.

The Equality Indicators provide measures of inequality in the city across 54 measures, grouped into themes of economic opportunity, education, housing, justice, public health and services.

Hall-Harper has been told by city attorneys being involved in hearings on racial disparities could be a conflict of interest because she is married to a Tulsa police officer. Hall-Harper has said there is not a conflict of interest because she does not stand to benefit from any hearings.