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Push for police oversight funding continues as councilors prepare to vote on FY 2023 budget

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City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper is pictured during a Tulsa City Council meeting at Tulsa City Hall on March 30.

A City Council working group recommended last month that if the Police Department is going to establish a Real Time Information Center, the city should also implement a police oversight program.

For Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, that begins by funding it.

“I will say that clearly: … Animal Welfare (Department), we figured out how to address it in our budget, but OIM (Office of the Independent Monitor) has been a request for several years, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem like … we’re going forward with that recommendation,” Hall-Harper said during a committee meeting last week. “That is my concern.”

The District 1 councilor has asked that the city’s Finance Department look into finding a way to fund a police oversight program in the fiscal year 2023 budget, which councilors are scheduled to vote on Wednesday.

Mayor G.T. Bynum’s proposed $944.9 budget includes $148.7 million for the Police Department, including at least $2.55 million to fund the Real Time Information Center.

Police say that initially the Real Time Information Center would operate out of City Hall and include approximately 50 video cameras — a figure that could change depending on the cost of the cameras and where they are installed.

Video from the cameras would be monitored around the clock.

The equipment is different from the Flock System license plate readers police are planning to install soon.

“According to our research, every major city that you all have told us has awesome Real Time Information Centers also have independent oversight,” said Councilor Lori Decter Wright. “Most of them had it in place beforehand. Birmingham put it in after the fact one year later, because of the demand of the community for that balance.”

The Office of the Independent Monitor was first proposed by Bynum in January 2019, but disagreements among councilors over how such a program should operate — and what powers it should be granted — have left the proposal in limbo.

Bynum’s OIM proposal was budgeted at approximately $500,000 a year. The working group’s OIM recommendation — one of 11 it offered to improve transparency and accountability in the Police Department — put the figure closer to $750,000.

The Animal Welfare Department funding Hall-Harper referenced was an additional $622,000 it is set to receive in the FY 2023 budget for raises, equipment — including an X-ray machine — and other materials.

Police Chief Wendell Franklin has consistently opposed implementing an OIM. He told councilors on Wednesday that he’s all for trying anything that would improve efficiency in the Police Department but that he does not believe an OIM is the answer.

“I speak to police chiefs … from their side on whether or not offices of the independent monitors, civilian oversight — how effective are they? And everyone I have spoken with, they laugh at OIM,” Franklin said. “Because either they are ineffective and officers don’t even know what they are and don’t understand them and they do their thing and police departments continue to operate, or there was so much turmoil and in-fighting among the civilians.”

Hall-Harper disagreed with that assessment, saying she’s heard from police chiefs who do support oversight programs.

“We are looking at Real Time Information Centers, and the vast majority of those (cities) have OIMs in place and have had them for years,” she said. “But we are, I guess, trying to figure out a way not to do that.”

The Trust and Accountability working group was one of multiple council subcommittees established to put forward proposals to address issues raised in the city’s Equality Indicators reports. The working group was made up of Councilors Mykey Arthrell, Hall-Harper and Wright.

The councilors looked at nearly 30 cities to determine how many had Real Time Crime Centers and independent oversight of their police departments. Las Vegas — which Bynum and Franklin have praised for the quality and effectiveness of its Real Time Crime Center — was one of the cities that had both.

“Whether it be an Office of the Independent Monitor (OIM) or an alternative format, the City of Tulsa needs to establish an independent accountability entity that regularly monitors and reviews TPD in order to increase accountability and transparency in policing,” the working group’s recommendation states.

City councilors are not in agreement on moving forward with the funding, with Councilor Phil Lakin arguing that he would like to see whether his colleagues would support a police oversight program — and what it would look like — before funding it.

Councilor Connie Dodson agreed.

“I think we’re kind of (putting) the cart before the horse when we are talking about funding something that this council hasn’t even agreed on the details for,” she said.


Featured video: Citizens comment on an Office of the Independent Monitor

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