Four months of long-sought-after public hearings on Tulsa’s Equality Indicators wrapped up recently, and city councilors are left to answer a big question: Now what?
The report showed significant racial disparities in areas like policing and justice system involvement, and councilors are now trying to figure out what they can do to close those gaps. Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper said the council must figure out what barriers will stop them from updating ordinances or taking other steps, like pushing for policy changes within the police department.
"And I’m speaking specifically about the collective bargaining agreement [with Tulsa police]. That’s what we heard constantly as to why we have not moved forward with a stronger Office of the Independent Monitor. I certainly don’t think that’s a dead issue," Hall-Harper said.
Councilor Phil Lakin said high municipal court fines and fees stood out as an issue they should tackle, but changes to the fee schedule or related ordinances wouldn’t take effect until next year — and people have warrants for failing to pay court costs now.
"Tens of thousands of warrants. So, we don’t impact — anything that we do next year doesn’t — I don’t think. I don’t think we have the ability to wipe those warrants away," Lakin said.
Councilor Lori Decter Wright said based on what citizens said during four months of hearings, some ordinances could at least stand common-sense tweaks.
"You know, we had some anecdotes, like, 'I got stopped for jaywalking in an area of town that has no sidewalks,'" Decter Wright said. "So, we need to look at the ordinance, and, like, maybe there needs to be some language like, 'This is not enforceable if there are not sidewalks in that community.'"
The Equality Indicators also measure disparities in education, economic opportunity and access to city services. Many disparities were greatest between white Tulsans and Tulsans of color.
Councilors will soon begin weekly meetings to figure out what policies they will pursue in order to improve disparities the report identified. A schedule has not been set.