Strategies for Building Trust Between Law Enforcement and Communities in Oklahoma: Executive Summary


Executive Summary

Law enforcement officers in Oklahoma face a challenging environment. Recent reports place the state near the top for both rates of people killed by police and police officers killed in the line of duty. High-profile cases of citizens killed by law enforcement officers in recent years have spurred discussions across the country of how to decrease the frequency of interactions that result in unnecessary violence against or by officers.

Policing Challenges in Oklahoma: 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 racial minorities of feeling targeted by the justice system as a whole, and police are often seen as the front line of that system. Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, and the highest incarceration rate of black men in the country. Though responses to highly publicized police-involved shootings have not turned violent, the state has much work to do to improve relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Proposals for Reforming Police in Oklahoma: 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 disparities in enforcement. Mental illness training can help to ensure that officers to recognize and respond appropriately to mental health crises.
  • Implement Proven Policy Measures: 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 commit to implementing 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, agencies should begin collecting and publishing data on key indicators like stops, arrests, and use-of-force complaints.

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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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