Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
14% of Tulsans are Black compared to 8% of Tulsa police. Why are minorities underrepresented in law enforcement?
topical
SPECIAL REPORT

14% of Tulsans are Black compared to 8% of Tulsa police. Why are minorities underrepresented in law enforcement?

{{featured_button_text}}

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.

TCSO

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.”

Broken Arrow

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.”

Suburbs

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.


Video: Tulsa Black Officers Coalition leader responds to controversy

Gallery: A look at the career of Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin

Get local news delivered to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News