New report examines reforms to rebuild trust between law enforcement and communities in Oklahoma

Today, OK Policy released a report, “Strategies for Building Trust Between Law Enforcement and Communities in Oklahoma,” that details the challenges facing Oklahoma law enforcement and proposes a menu of reforms that have shown promise in addressing those challenges in jurisdictions across the country. By reforming policies regarding use-of-force and the treatment of race in policing, improving and broadening training procedures, and striving to hire officers that reflect the diversity of our communities, agencies can help to build trust with the communities they serve. Doing so improves the safety of officers and the public alike.

Tension between law enforcement and communities of color is not new or specific to our state, but statistics suggest that the problem could be more severe here compared to many other places. Much of the mistrust stems from a sense among minority groups of feeling unfairly targeted by the justice system as a whole, and police are the front line of that system. Oklahoma has one of the highest overall incarceration rates in the country, and the highest incarceration rate of black men in the country. Although protests over police-involved shootings have not erupted in Oklahoma at the same scale as in other parts of the country, we have much work to do to improve relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Jurisdictions across the country have addressed issues of mistrust with various reform efforts. The proposals offered in this report have shown promise in improving key indicators like use-of-force complaints and officer-involved shootings.

  • Deepen Law Enforcement Training in Key Areas: Some agencies that have implemented robust de-escalation and use-of-force trainings have seen significant drops in complaints. The emerging field of implicit bias training holds promise for reducing racial discrimination in enforcement. Mental illness training can help to ensure that officers can recognize and respond appropriately to mental health crises.
  • Implement Proven Police Engagement Practices: Policies that direct officers to de-escalate situations when possible and use the minimum necessary force are associated with lower complaints about use-of-force. Policies should also be set to determine when race can be used in police work, making clear that this is appropriate only in specific situations.
  • Focus on Intentional Officer Candidate Recruiting and Retention: Agencies should strive to recruit and retain a workforce that reflects the diversity of the communities they serve. They should also implement best practices in psychological evaluation and care both at hiring and throughout service.
  • Collect and Publish Data on Key Performance Measures: In order to evaluate trends and provide the best information to policymakers and the public, agencies should begin collecting and publishing data on key indicators like stops, arrests, and use-of-force complaints.

The report’s proposals have broad support from both law enforcement leaders and reform advocates. Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan applauded the recommendations, saying, “The report is very comprehensive and provides a good template for moving forward to better interact and serve our community. The Tulsa Police Department has implemented many of the suggestions already and has experienced positive results.”

ACLU of Oklahoma President Ryan Kiesel said, “It is impossible to have a meaningful conversation about criminal justice reform without addressing the front lines of the system — police. With this report, our partners at OK Policy Institute have put forth a manual for reforms that would benefit not only the communities police officers serve, but the officers as well.” 

Oklahomans have recognized that our criminal justice system needs major reforms and have begun taking steps to do that in recent years. State leaders recognize that we need to reduce an incarceration rate that remains among the very highest in the country.

However, discussions of reforming many people’s first interaction with the justice system have been largely absent from the conversation at the state level. For Oklahoma’s justice reform measures to be complete, the state and its communities need to address racial disparities and mistrust of police head-on.

Read the full report here.


Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

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