Minorities are underrepresented on three of the largest law enforcement agencies in the Tulsa area, according to a Tulsa World survey, while smaller agencies say their size is a challenge in recruiting a force representative of the community.
Newspapers owned by Lee Enterprises in Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas recently compared the diversity of their local law enforcement agencies to the communities those police serve. The diversity of law enforcement is drawing increased attention in the wake of a number of cases in which racial injustice at the hands of police is alleged to have occurred.
Minority representation among the three largest sworn police forces in the Tulsa area — the city of Tulsa, city of Broken Arrow and Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office — all fall below the share of minorities in the jurisdictions they serve.
Among the 826-member Tulsa Police force, where nearly 3 in 4 are non-Hispanic white officers, the percentage of minority officers is nearly 20 points lower than that of minorities in the population served.
Minorities make up about 45.7% of the city of Tulsa population, yet about 26.8% of the TPD sworn force are minorities, according to a comparison of TPD employee racial and ethnic figures to U.S. Census Bureau population statistics.
The 65 Black members of TPD account for about 7.9% of the total sworn force, while the Black population represents 14.4% of Tulsa residents.
Despite Tulsa’s Hispanic population booming over the past couple decades, only 5% of TPD’s force, 41 officers, identify as Hispanic. At 17.2% of the city population, Hispanic-identifying residents are the largest single minority group.
One bright area in recruitment and retention for TPD is among its American Indian representation on the force. The 10.7% share of the American Indians on the police force is more than double the population share of Native residents in the city limits, which is 4.5.
Tulsa Police Officer Jesse Guardiola, employed in workforce development, said short- and long-term goals affect minority recruitment.
Short-term, the department has been all about meeting with minorities on their turf, Guardiola said.
“For years we would just go to career fairs and talk to people,” he said.
TPD recruiters also go to historically Black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions to seek out potential officer candidates, Guardiola said.
“It’s about relationships,” he said. “And community policing, at the very essence, is about relationships, so why should recruitment be different?”
Recruiters give in-classroom talks and sometimes even teach as adjunct instructors, Guardiola said.
Sometimes the interactions can help dispel rumors, he said.
Among Hispanic youths, Guardiola said he often hears, “The only thing you care about is separating us from our family.”
Guardiola said it’s important for recruiters to explain that TPD does not participate in the federal 287(g) program at the Tulsa jail.
The program, named for a section of federal immigration law, brings ICE agents into local jails where specially trained Tulsa County detention officers and ICE agents have the ability to request that individuals brought in on local charges and suspected separately of immigration violations be held without bail in jail.
For those skeptical of joining the force, Guardiola said he would challenge them to join anyway, adding: “‘If you think we are broken, then come join us and change us from within.’ This really brings pause to many of these kids at that age.”
Guardiola said the requirement that recruits have a bachelor’s degree before applying at TPD can be a tall order.
“The biggest issue in my opinion is the bachelor’s degree,” he said. “Unless we create a way for socially economic disadvantaged kids to apply, ... that’s going to be an issue.”
Guardiola said long-term, TPD is working toward a new program that places high school graduates on a track to become a police officer through classes at Tulsa Community College and Oklahoma State University-Tulsa.
The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office sworn force more closely represents the community it serves, in large part due to the suburbs with smaller shares of minorities within their populations.
About 27% of TCSO deputies are minorities, according to statistics provided by county officials, while minorities account for about 39% of the Tulsa County population.
Spokeswoman Casey Roebuck said unlike most law enforcement agencies, TCSO recruits for deputies from among its detention officer ranks at the Tulsa County jail, officially known as the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center.
“The jail is where ground zero is for us in terms of recruiting,” Roebuck said, adding TCSO also seeks out detention officer recruits at job fairs and via social media.
Roebuck said there is a “myth” in the Hispanic community that TCSO has immigration enforcement powers.
“We spend a lot of time in our minority communities sort of dispelling those myths,” she said.
The World asked Roebuck to estimate the impact of TCSO’s participation in the 287(g) program in contributing to that myth.
“There is some impact,” Roebuck said.
She said recruiters advise prospective recruits that the 287(g) program is “only operational within the walls of David L. Moss, and the Sheriff’s Office does not ‘go round up people’ for being undocumented.”
Of 221 on TCSO’s sworn force, nine are Hispanic, about 4%. About 13.3% of the Tulsa County population identifies as Hispanic, according to Census Bureau figures.
“Ultimately the goal — it would be great to have a staff that was 100% in line with what our population is,” Roebuck said. “We want to have a force that is reflective of our community, but at the end of the day we value diversity but also want people that want to do this job.”
In Broken Arrow, the 152-member police force serves a population about one-fourth the size of Tulsa. While the non-Hispanic white population is about 70.4%, records provided by the city indicate 83% of the force is white.
The seven Black officers on the force account for 4.6% of total sworn members. Black residents represent about 3.7% of the population in Broken Arrow.
The two Hispanics on the force combine to account for 1.3% of the total sworn force in a city where 8.9% of the population is Hispanic.
In all, minorities make up about 17% of Broken Arrow Police force while about 29.6% of the Broken Arrow population are among minority groups.
Broken Arrow Police Chief Brandon Berryhill said it is important for all city departments to strive to be representative of the people they serve.
“The challenge is that you first have to find a way to encourage applicants from all parts of the community that policing is a valid career choice,” Berryhill said in written comments to the Tulsa World.
He said the department for the past four years has seen a steady increase in minority applicants, with female applicants increasing over the past three years.
Berryhill said most of the department’s recruitment comes from word of mouth about the agency’s reputation. BAPD has almost no attrition other than through retirements, the chief said.
“The best recruiter for any department is the officers that are currently employed that enjoy their job,” Berryhill said.
The department sponsors several citizen police academies, including one that focuses on the Hispanic community.
Berryhill said it will take a community effort to encourage more minorities to join the force.
“The police profession needs to be held up so our youth believe it to be a valid career path,” Berryhill wrote. “Much like the teaching profession, society needs to support the job so quality applicants want to apply. When society downplays the importance of any job, it can create a negative spiral where less and less quality applicants are attracted to that profession.”
Two other area departments that responded to the survey, Sand Springs and Sapulpa, illustrate how a smaller police force can make it even harder to make represent the community’s demographics.
In Sand Springs, 78.4% of the population are non-Hispanic whites, compared to 29 of the 33 sworn members on the police force, about 88%.
Sand Springs has one Hispanic police officer and zero blacks in its sworn ranks.
Sand Springs Police Chief Mike Carter said it is important to have a department whose ranks racially and ethnically represent the community, but he notes with fewer officers, small changes can cause big swings.
“If we had two officers of any race other than white, we would be equal to our community makeup,” Carter said.
The department advertises for new officers in the Tulsa World, through online job sites and on social media, he said. Sand Springs Police recruiters seek out applicants at colleges and universities; the department requires jobseekers to have at least 62 undergraduate credit hours.
Sand Springs recently waived the college requirement for those with military service, Carter said, in hopes of attracting more minorities.
Sand Springs also has difficulty competing for minority recruits among larger police forces.
“Minority officers are in such high demand, that they normally go to agencies with the ability to pay more or have better promotional and specialty opportunities,” Carter said.
He said he hopes the department’s success with community policing will translate to more interest among minority job candidates.
“This year we helped with the Black Lives Unity Rally that was held in our community, and instead of a protest we had a cookout with members in attendance and had a good time listening and communicating what we had done to date,” Carter said.
The city of Sapulpa had the most diverse police force among those surveyed.
About 28% of Sapulpa Police officers are minorities, compared to a minority city population of 25.7%. About 72% of the police force is white non-Hispanic compared to 74.3% in the community, according to Census data.
The World was unable to obtain racial/ethnic breakdowns of police departments in Bixby, Jenks and Owasso. Bixby and Owasso police departments both said they did not track racial and ethnic sworn force numbers; a Jenks official said any request for data would have to be made in person.
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Oklahoma has broken the overall COVID-19 hospitalization record seven of the past 10 weekdays the state has reported that data.
COVID-19 ICU hospitalizations also are at an all-time high in the state.
But Oklahomans don’t know what the specific numbers are within each hospital or hospital region because the state doesn’t publicly release that data. And there have been conflicting viewpoints in recent weeks between state officials and public health and medical professionals about just how strained or not hospitals are, with some patients being transferred out of the Oklahoma City metro area.
Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU Health’s COVID chief, said Friday that transparency is the best course of action for Oklahoma. He noted that the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition — he is a member of the group of medical and public health professionals — has asked the state for more transparency on bed capacity at individual hospitals.
“I think transparency is the best thing that we can do right now,” Bratzler said. “Let people understand where this disease is spreading, how many cases, what the reality is around hospitalization.
“Right now, it’s difficult sometimes even at a hospital for an emergency room doctor, for instance, to know where there’s a hospital that has a bed available without just making a bunch of phone calls. I think we need to continue to have as much transparency as we can.”
Overnight Thursday night, 792 COVID-19 hospitalizations were reported in the state, with 301 COVID patients in ICUs — a record. The state’s overall COVID hospitalization record was set the previous night at 793 patients.
A spokesperson for Gov. Kevin Stitt declined to say why the governor hasn’t released more granular hospital bed data for the benefit of the medical community and public.
Charlie Hannema, Stitt’s chief of communications, on Friday deferred all questions to the Oklahoma State Department of Health “as the lead agency working on these issues and best suited to provide specific answers.”
In a statement Friday, the Health Department said it is working to improve public release of data.
“OSDH is working with hospitals to release regional hospital bed capacity,” according to the statement. “Timing and details are not yet available, but we will keep media updated as more progress is made.”
This marks an advancement from Oct. 6, when Health Department Deputy Commissioner Travis Kirkpatrick told the Tulsa World that the agency was considering adding regional hospital bed capacity to its data dashboard but continued to “weigh the need for transparency with accuracy and timeliness.”
Bratzler said the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition is composed of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, Oklahoma Hospital Association, Oklahoma Nurses Association and other groups.
He said he thinks all of the group members are frustrated about “some of the lack of interventions to prevent the spread of disease.” He is a proponent of a statewide mask mandate but said people should take personal responsibility to wear a mask because even “pretty good data” show that cities with mask ordinances see slower growth in COVID-19 cases.
But another aspect, Bratzler said, is publicly releasing granular data to ensure that hospital physicians can quickly determine where there is bed capacity to transfer patients with as little delay as possible.
Statewide, the ICU bed availability snapshot has hovered between 10% and 13%, with the number of available staffed beds ranging from 101 to 124 out of 961 to 1,114 total. The total bed data shift each day depending on hospital staffing levels.
Bratzler said community hospitals that have available beds would prevent a region from entering the red zone on the regional risk map the state currently uses even though other hospitals are at capacity.
“So I just don’t think we’re getting the complete picture of what’s actually happening with respect to the ability of hospitals,” Bratzler said.
“I think the one thing that patients may find out is that if they have a serious medical condition — and it might not even be COVID — they may end up getting transferred to a different hospital or even to a different community to receive their care if the hospital is filled up.”
Dr. Jennifer Clark, a former hospital administrator, noted on Wednesday that October metrics are on pace to “far outstrip” September’s.
Clark leads the data portion of the COVID-19 sessions for Project ECHO, an Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences program that helps serve rural and underserved areas. She said COVID-19 is spreading at much higher rates in rural areas than urban and that there is “widespread community involvement” throughout the state.
As an example of how that affects hospitals, “ICU capacity is kind of very tenuous in Stillwater,” Clark added.
Dr. George Monks, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said Friday that hospital capacity can vary from hour to hour but that many hospitals are strained.
“This is where having our state release the regional hospital capacity information on ICU and COVID beds is so critical,” Monks said. “We need that daily snapshot of this information to understand what’s going on. Our whole state surge plan is based on regional hospital regions, yet we are just not getting that information publicly.”
Oklahoma Army National Guard Lt. Col. Matt Stacy, a member of the Governor’s Solutions Task Force, said hospitals are doing a “great job” of managing patient case loads, which he said is a testament to health care workers.
Stacy noted that he isn’t involved in determining what kind of hospital data are released.
He said hospitals are functioning at close to staffed capacity, not capacity of licensed beds — which is an important distinction because “staff is very expensive” and hospitals operate as businesses.
“It is stressful but effective,” Stacy said of how hospital capacity is managed. “I don’t want to say it’s good, because I know it’s hard. There’s a lot of hard work happening.”
Hospital personnel are stressed “but doing a great job,” he said.
LaWanna Halstead, vice president of quality and clinical initiatives for the Oklahoma Hospital Association, said Friday that there is ICU capacity in every hospital region of the state but that it is limited in metro areas.
“While COVID is adding to the patient load, hospitals are still caring for all types of patients, including surgical patients,” Halstead said. “Occasionally a patient may need to be transferred to another hospital if one hospital is temporarily full. The capacity in hospitals changes continuously.”
The Oklahoma Hospital Association notes that Oklahoma has had a shortage of nurses and other health care professionals “for some time” and that the shortage is exacerbated by the pandemic.
Halstead said some nurses, especially temporary staff, go to COVID-19 hot spots for more money.
She previously said hospitals’ patient surge plans are no longer supported by state funding since the state Health Department canceled its overflow contracts at the end of September.
Stacy, who helps develop the state’s surge plans, said the state paid hospitals at least $60 million in federal CARES Act funds through the overflow contracts to help them prepare for a surge of patients. He said the state is still supporting hospitals in other ways.
The state wants to develop a long-term solution for improving the hospital system rather than pay for temporary staffing help with the remaining federal COVID-relief dollars that must be spent by the end of the year, he said.
The state increased testing capacity from 100 per day at the pandemic’s outset to 6,500 per day now, which bolsters data for decision-making, Stacy said. He said the state also has made massive investments in personal protective equipment to distribute to hospitals and clinics.
“We’re constantly replenishing the stockpile,” Stacy said.
He said Oklahoma is leading the nation in developing its inoculation plan, with health care workers the first priority once vaccine shipments arrive.
Additionally, he said the Health Department is working with the Oklahoma Hospital Association and hospital CEOs to revise the state’s patient surge plan to create new tiers and triggers, including a better distribution of patients and an updated hospital bed survey.
He said the state expects to release the surge plan — its third iteration — this week. The Health Department has asked hospitals to tell it what their needs are, as well as what thresholds make sense for their systems, he said.
“It’s probably going to vary by region, honestly, where those thresholds need to be for actions whereupon the state takes certain types of action,” Stacy said. “One of those actions could be at some point a reduction or elimination of elective procedures. There’s going to be a threshold for that because that obviously creates more capacity.
“It also has some negative health consequences because patients need some of those treatments even though they’re considered elective.”
There also will be a threshold for constructing field hospitals, although neither the Health Department nor hospital executives expect that to be necessary, Stacy said.
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Correction: This story originally listed the incorrect hometown of state Rep. Mark McBride. It has been corrected.
The State Auditor and Inspector’s report on Epic Charter Schools included a host of recommendations for policymakers to consider to increase transparency and accountability for the use of taxpayer dollars in the future.
So what do education policy leaders from the Oklahoma State Senate and House of Representatives make of the forensic audit findings?
Most said the need for additional legislation was made clear — and none gave any credence to Epic’s claims that State Auditor Cindy Byrd’s findings were politically motivated or rooted in opposition to charter schools or parent school choice.
The Tulsa World asked Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, chair of the House education sub committee on appropriations and budget, whether he read the 105-page audit report and whether he thought legislation is needed to address any of the concerns raised in it.
“Yes and yes,” was his response. “There has been understanding ever since the audit began that its findings would likely inform future bills, and members will definitely have bills on this topic when filing begins later this year. The legislative process will determine what the final product looks like.”
Sen. Joe Newhouse, R-Tulsa, and vice chair of the Senate education committee, had only tackled the audit’s executive summary so far but said he would be making time to study the full report in-depth.
“Rep. Sheila Dills (R-Tulsa) and I and many others have been on board from the beginning in promoting greater transparency for virtual charter schools. This report is only going to trigger greater response from the Legislature,” he said. “Some areas have been identified and we are going to make sure we tighten those screws.”
Newhouse said he champions school choice options for parents, including virtual charter schools, and has rooted for Epic to succeed, so “I think it’s a tragedy that the report found so many glaring mistakes and shortfalls.”
“When this organization was found to be owing the state roughly $9 million, not to mention it identified several shortcomings my constituents are very concerned about, it’s quite the dilemma because this charter school offers such a tremendous service in the pandemic,” Newhouse said. “I am hoping Epic can address these and put confidence back into their system. We are asking them to do right by the taxpayer and right by the families and teachers and students.”
Since the World asked lawmakers for their take on the state audit report, we also asked for their take on Epic’s response that State Auditor Cindy Byrd must be anti-charter school or anti-parent school choice.
“I don’t agree. This is about taxpayer dollars, plain and simple,” McBride said.
Newhouse called it a “stunt” and likened it to the tricks magicians use to distract their audience.
And he likened Epic’s attacks on the state auditor to its failed lawsuit against Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, after he publicly questioned Epic’s student attendance and enrollment practices.
“I have worked very closely with Auditor Byrd on a number of other issues. I have the highest esteem for her and her integrity — she is somebody who is a true public servant,” Newhouse said. “This is now the state’s largest organization educating our students. There are areas that need to be addressed, so why redirect the attention on the messenger instead of focusing on the message? I would like to see Epic focus on what’s in the audit and not try to turn the attention to the auditor.
“Take ownership of the problems. Come clean and say we are going to work on this and focus on this.”
Outgoing Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, longtime chairman of the Senate Education Committee and author of most of the legislation that has allowed Epic to operate and expand, said he doesn’t believe there are any policy implications raised by the forensic audit findings.
“I have read the report and the State Auditor has not convinced me that additional legislation is warranted at this time. With the passage of (House Bill) 1395 there will be much more transparency concerning virtual charter schools. The audit did exactly what it was intended to do, find areas of weakness and allow the school to correct the deficiencies.”
The author of HB 1395, which took effect last year, said she questions whether specific concerns about Epic can be addressed by added transparency and accountability measures because she was dismayed to learn from the state audit report that Epic apparently didn’t comply with the new requirements set forth in that legislation.
Under HB 1395, charter school management organizations must now provide itemized, not estimated, expenditure information to ensure schools can account more fully for their use of taxpayer dollars. The state audit found that Epic Charter Schools did not provide an accurate accounting of actual costs for its for-profit charter school management company, Epic Youth Services.
“I am very disappointed that Epic Youth Services submitted estimates of expenditures after the coding requirements of HB1395 became law. But equally disappointing, is the fact that the State Department of Education accepted the estimates,” said HB 1395 author Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa. “According to the law relating to the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System, schools are required to submit actual costs not estimates.”
Stanislawski said every public school in the state goes through an audit process each year and frequently the auditors find areas of weakness, which are then corrected by the board.
“Just because there were areas of weakness, the state does not create new laws,” he said, adding, “I do not see an issue with for-profit charter school operators. I believe to assume not-for-profit is somehow superior is using faulty reasoning.”
Stanislawski does not, however, agree with Epic’s claims that the auditor findings were politically motivated or the result of anti-charter school, anti-parent school choice beliefs.
“It is unfortunate that Epic responded that way,” he said. “I believe the state auditor is acting in the best interest of the state and I did not see anything to the contrary.”
Staff writer Curtis Killman contributed to this story.
Video: State auditor releases Epic Charter Schools investigation.
Epic Charter Schools: A Tulsa World investigation.