Current events demonstrate need for task force reviewing community policing standards (Capitol Update)

Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, has announced he will introduce three measures next session dealing with police use of deadly force. The bills will be: 

  • establish a state task force to review and recommend community policing standards in Oklahoma regarding use of deadly force by law enforcement; 
  • require an independent investigation of excessive force cases, and 
  • create an Oklahoma law enforcement database that would allow departments to learn if an applicant has previously resigned other employment during an internal investigation and prior to being fired for cause.

As reform proposals go, these seem to be about as moderate as you could imagine. But they will no doubt face opposition. In fact, Nichols filed the “community standards task force” bills in 2017 and again in 2020. Nichols expressed frustration that both bills were passed from committee early in session but over the three-year period neither received a floor hearing in the House. Rep. Nichols has requested an interim legislative study this fall on police use of force. 

In a related incident, a couple days after Rep. Nichols announced his legislative efforts, a Tulsa Police Department video was released showing two black teenagers walking down a neighborhood street in broad daylight talking and laughing with each other. A police cruiser turns around and two officers stop the boys, ostensibly for “jaywalking” because they were walking in the middle of a street with no sidewalks rather than to the side. It is not clear exactly what happens next, but the officers said they wanted to talk to the boys, and one of the boys, it is clear, does not want to talk to the officers. From there, he is wrestled to the ground, handcuffed, and arrested. The other boy is also handcuffed and made to sit on the ground. He was later released because he was “cooperative.”

No one died, but this video began much like other videos seen lately that ended with a death. Maybe the teenager is fortunate the officers were able to subdue him and he did not take off running. Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum in a statement said, “The officers in this unit focus on removal of illegal guns from the streets.” He perhaps inadvertently revealed what really was going on. The officers saw a couple Black kids and thought they might be in possession of something illegal. The kids knew exactly what was going on. They kept saying “we don’t have anything.”

A lot of people are going to say if the teen had just done what the police told him to do, none of this would have happened. That is probably true. But, so what? Who thought it was a good idea to send these officers out on the streets to “focus on removing illegal guns” without teaching them that citizens in a free country don’t have to stop and talk to the police or let themselves be searched if they don’t want to? There was no reasonable suspicion the boys were up to anything criminal.

If the officers were really concerned about jaywalking, write the boys a ticket and move on. Jaywalking was not the point. The mayor said as much. And thousands of protesters, along with everyone else, knows which group of people get stopped and “talked to” for jaywalking or “no tail light” or “changing lanes without signaling.” There is a bigger problem here than just the actions of these two officers. People are tired of it, and they are not all Black. A viewing of this video demonstrates better than words why Rep. Nichols’ task force is needed. 


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.