The Tulsa Police Department [TPD] is arguably the most embattled police force in the country. Rocked by a recent corruption scandal that has so far resulted in the dismissal or reduction of 32 criminal cases, at a taxpayer cost expected to run into the millions, the TPD is ensnared in an epic legal mess. Now we also know that, according to data offered by the The National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP), that Tulsa outranks nearly every major city in the US for its high rate of police misconduct.
And yet none of this should come as a surprise. As writer Joshua Kline points out in his article “Misconduct City,” the conditions that allowed corruption to spread have been present for well over a decade. In the case of Bradley, Assistant District Attorney Bill Musseman felt compelled to ignore an officer’s assault, suggesting a culture of impunity that begins in the DA’s office. If a police force thinks that it’s receiving a legal pass from the DA, then it can feel increasingly free to cross ethical lines and violate personal rights. Vigilante justice takes precedence over due process.
Kline’s reporting also reveals that our city’s court records are completely unprotected. If anyone can make an unfavorable bit of information vanish from the public record, then there’s a terrible vulnerability in our judicial system, and subsequently another prime condition for corruption.
But there are factors far beyond dereliction that have contributed to the TPD’s poor standing. The Tulsa Police Department collects data on its own complaints, but finding that data is nearly impossible—it took the enterprising work of a watchdog organization in Seattle to reveal the depth of Tulsa’s police misconduct problem. I’d also challenge you to find the TPD’s online system for reporting an officer’s misconduct—it’s there, but locating it is no easy task. In an environment where transparency is a mandatory value, the current TPD operates with either opacity or extreme disorganization, making it difficult to assess its performance.
When Chief Chuck Jordan was appointed as the interim head the TPD in 2010, he was handed a police force in disarray. While he’s done a commendable job administratively, it’s worth noting that both Chief Jordan and Sgt. Quentin Houck declined to comment for Kline’s story, suggesting that neither of them feels an obligation to answer to the press for an important investigation.
From a broader perspective, Tulsa’s media establishment is partly to blame. The current police corruption scandal came to light only when a group of attorneys begin leaking news of a Federal Grand Jury investigation to the press—long after the incidents of corruption had taken place. Shouldn’t an inquisitive media discover such terrible acts prior to a formal investigation? Questions surrounding the discovery of corruption are at the very heart of the current investigation. When the media allows its police department to operate without serious scrutiny, we create yet another fertile atmosphere for corruption to spread.
All the bad news about the TPD shouldn’t overshadow the larger reality: that the Tulsa Police Department, is, in the end, staffed by officers full of great courage and a tremendous sense of duty. Yet when corruption and misconduct complaints occur within a minority, it tarnishes the badges of the entire force. In the interest of the brave, good men and women of the TPD, Tulsa and its press should demand greater transparency from its police force, and along with it, a renewed sense of accountability to the public and its fourth estate.