Strategies for Building Trust Between Law Enforcement and Communities in Oklahoma: Reform Proposals

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Reforming policing policy and practice in Oklahoma should draw on successful efforts across the country. The thread running through all examples of successful police reform is the full commitment of law enforcement leadership. The importance of this is illustrated by the case studies in the following section, as well as the disappointing results in cities where the push for reform came from the federal government without full buy-in from local law enforcement. Police departments should focus on providing officers the tools they need to avoid and defuse confrontations where possible; set clear expectations of their conduct through training and policy; and step up efforts to recruit a workforce that reflects the diversity of their communities.

The Department of Justice has issued consent decrees for dozens of police departments that were found to have committed civil rights violations, in effect forcing reforms upon the agencies in the attempt to reduce officers’ use of force. After years-long reform processes that often consumed hundreds of millions of dollars, the results are mixed at best. Use of force incidents increased during and after the consent decrees in half of the cities under consent decrees examined in a Washington Post review, though officers did receive better training and new equipment.1 The most successful law enforcement reforms – such as those in the Los Angeles Police Department and Oakland Police Department, as highlighted in the following recommendations – happened where local leadership provided the necessary internal push for serious reform.

Area 1: Deepen Law Enforcement Training in Key Areas

Emphasize De-escalation and Appropriate Use of Force in Ongoing Training

In response to high-profile officer-involved killings, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) held a series of conferences to review the implications of those events for policing. They issued a series of reports on their findings and recommendations. The second report focused on de-escalation and use-of-force training. PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler observed, “As we look back at the most controversial officer-involved shooting incidents, we sometimes find that while the shooting may be legally justified, there were missed opportunities to ratchet down the encounter, to slow things down, to call in additional resources, in the minutes before the shooting occurred.”2

Departments across the country reevaluated their training practices in these areas, and many concluded that they were insufficient and sought to go beyond one-day in-service lectures on policies and procedures. For example, the New York Police Department instituted three-day trainings that include a full day of scenario-based training on de-escalation. The training seeks to replicate high-emotion encounters and allow officers to practice mitigating the effects of adrenaline and anger in those situations.3

Oklahoma law enforcement agencies should consider implementing training similar to the one developed by the Oakland Police Department, called “Force Options.” The training emphasizes the need to take into account the many variables that enter into any real-life encounter with a subject. It offers trainees practice making and assessing decisions about use of force. Officers are presented with a simulation where they have to decide how to respond to a subject, choosing whether to use their gun, pepper spray, or other option. After the simulation, they are evaluated on their decision and asked to justify it, leading to a larger discussion about options available to officers.4

Since this training was introduced in 2010, Oakland has seen a significant drop in use of force incidents, complaints about officers, and officer involved shootings.5 While the context that most Oklahoma law enforcement officers operate in may be quite different from Oakland, the principles of the Force Options training program could surely be adapted to suit the needs of local departments.

Add Nationally-Recognized Implicit Bias Training

As law enforcement agencies seek to improve their relationships with minority communities, among the most common responses has been to institute anti-bias training. A wide body of research shows that law enforcement officers respond differently to people according to their race. For example, studies comparing reaction times in officers’ decisions to shoot consistently show shorter reaction times to shoot an armed black suspect compared to an armed white suspect,6 and officers are much more likely to use non-lethal force in interactions with blacks compared to whites.7 Anti-bias trainings focus on identifying the unconscious biases that officers hold – just like everyone else – that subtly disadvantage people of color.

While there are many programs that seek to help officers identify and minimize their own biases, there is so far limited empirical evidence to show that they reduce disparities in law enforcement outcomes, like disparities in pretextual stops and use of force. Still, there are promising programs that have been adopted by agencies across the country, and Oklahoma agencies should not fall behind the curve. Fair and Impartial Policing, a program developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, uses role playing and small group discussion to help officers develop skills to understand human bias and reduce its impact in their work.8 The national organization provides training for agencies and also offers the option of training others to perform the training. Oklahoma’s Center for Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) should consider certifying trainers to provide the Fair and Impartial Policing training to agencies across the state. Alternatively, private grants could fund trainings for specific agencies.

Expand Mental Illness Training

Many law enforcement agencies have trained officers to recognize and respond to mental health crises. One popular model, the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), has shown promising results in de-escalating interactions with individuals in the midst of a mental health crisis. From its implementation in Miami-Dade County in 2000 until 2014, 4,000 officers from municipal police departments received the training. The program reported a significant drop in fatal shootings and injuries of people with mental illnesses by police officers.9

In 2013, “CIT officers from the Miami-Dade Police Department and City of Miami Police Department responded to more than 10,000 calls, resulting in over 1,200 diversions to crisis units and just 9 arrests,” according to a 2014 evaluation of the program. “Over the past four years, these two agencies have responded to nearly 38,000 mental health crisis calls resulting in almost 9,000 diversions to crisis units and just 85 arrests.” The daily jail population dropped from 7,800 to 4,800, and one jail was closed, saving taxpayers $12 million per year.

Law enforcement agencies in Tulsa have begun the process of certifying their officers to participate in CIT through the Outside Inside Collaboration for Justice, a local initiative to divert people with mental illness from the Tulsa County Jail. Other Oklahoma agencies should follow suit.

Area 2: Implement Proven Policy Measures

Update Use-of-Force Policies

Formal policies on the legitimate use of force by law enforcement officers have been a focus of advocates in recent years. These policies play a central role in the solutions to reduce law enforcement violence developed by Campaign Zero, a project that grew out of the Black Lives Matter movement. That group has identified eight policies associated with lower numbers of killings by law enforcement:10

  • Require officers to de-escalate situations, when possible, before using force.11
  • Use a Force Continuum or Matrix that defines/limits the types of force and specific weapons that can be used to respond to specific levels of resistance.
  • Restrict chokeholds and strangleholds (including carotid restraints) to situations where deadly force is authorized or prohibit them altogether.
  • Require officers to give a verbal warning, when possible, before using deadly force.
  • Prohibit officers from shooting at people in moving vehicles unless the person poses a deadly threat by means other than the vehicle (for example, shooting at people from the vehicle).
  • Require officers to exhaust all other reasonable alternatives before resorting to using deadly force.
  • Require officers to intervene to stop another officer from using excessive force.
  • Require officers to report both uses of force and threats/attempted uses of force (for example, reporting instances where an officer intentionally points a firearm at a civilian).

These are reasonable policies, and many large police departments have at least six or seven of them in place. Requiring officers to exhaust all other reasonable alternatives to shooting is particularly effective, as it has been associated with a 25 percent lower rate of police killings.12 Oklahoma City and Tulsa Police officials say that many of these policies are addressed in training or internal manuals rather than published materials.

Oklahoma law enforcement agencies should adopt these policies to the extent possible in order to both provide guidance to officers and to hold them accountable when reasonable procedures are not followed. They should clearly communicate – publicly, wherever possible – the expectations of officers and the possible consequences of their failure to comply.

Adopt Anti-Bias Policies

Law enforcement agencies across the country have recognized that racial bias creates mistrust in minority communities and acknowledged that disparities in enforcement are often created by pretextual stops. To address this problem, some law enforcement agencies have established policies for when officers can use race in the course of their work. Especially helpful in this area is Racially Biased Policing, a comprehensive overview of the problem and policy responses published by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).13 Their recommendations include specifying that “officers shall not consider race/ethnicity to initiate even those nonconsensual encounters that do not amount to legal detentions or request consent to search,” except when officers have “trustworthy, locally relevant information that links a person or persons of a specific race/ethnicity to a particular unlawful incident(s).”14 Such a policy would prohibit pretextual stops based on race, though enforcing such a policy may be difficult in practice.

Racially Biased Policing also recommends further policies meant to combat perceptions of biased policing by showing professional courtesy, communicating openly with subjects, and “apologiz[ing] and/or explain[ing] if [the officer] determines that the reasonable suspicion was unfounded.”15

Oklahoma law enforcement agencies should review their policies and ensure that officers may only use race when absolutely called for. These policies can be a critical signal to officers and a tool to keep them accountable for the patterns in their behavior.

Solicit Technical Assistance on Community Policing

Community policing is built on three pillars: community partnerships, organizational transformation, and problem solving.16 In short, law enforcement agencies must establish deep relationships with other government agencies, community members, non-profits, and others in order to proactively resolve problems that might otherwise fester and contribute to crime. In order to achieve this, agencies must create a culture that values this approach. Community policing requires “a shift to the long-term assignment of officers to specific neighborhoods or areas” in order to “enhance customer service and facilitate more contact between police and citizens”; on the flip side, this means reducing resources devoted to specialized units.17

Police departments around the state have expressed their commitment to community policing. The Oklahoma City Police Department has reported success with its community initiatives,18 and Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, in his first month in office, formed a commission to “look at best practices all around the country as it relates to community-policing strategies, identify what will work here in Tulsa best and then allow our department to implement those recommendations after they come forward.”19

Many resources are available to help with implementing a community policing strategy. The most comprehensive source is Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), a program of the U.S. Department of Justice. In addition to being the central clearinghouse for community policing research, COPS offers technical assistance on collaborative reform that takes into account “national standards, best practices, existing research and community expectations,” though changes made to the program by the Trump administration may limit this opportunity going forward.20,21 Efforts in Oklahoma appear to be driven mostly by local actors and are relatively limited in scope. Law enforcement agencies across the state should engage with the wider expertise and consider soliciting technical assistance available through national organizations like COPS.

Area 3: Focus on Intentional Officer Candidate Recruiting and Retention

Increase Diversity of Law Enforcement Officers

Mistrust of law enforcement by communities of color is often strained even further when officers are predominantly white, as is the case in cities across the country. Oklahoma City Police Department personnel in 2013 were 85.5 percent white, for example, compared to just 55.8 percent of the general population.24 The Tulsa Police Department was only slightly more representative of its community, with whites comprising 76.2 percent of its officers compared to 57.0 percent of its population.

Researchers have identified many barriers to hiring qualified candidates from minority groups.23 Recruitment efforts are often impeded by a lack of trust in law enforcement within minority communities. Agencies may use hiring criteria or examinations that unintentionally exclude qualified individuals from underrepresented communities, and some candidates may be deterred by long, complicated, and expensive application processes. For those who do make it onto the workforce, minority officers may find it difficult to adjust to the organizational culture.

Finding and hiring more qualified candidates from minority groups requires a concerted long-term effort, but many law enforcement agencies have taken steps to do so. Researchers have identified strategies at the recruiting, hiring, and retention stages that show promise in fostering a diverse workforce that reflects the community it serves.

Pursue New Partnerships and Targeted Outreach Efforts

Law enforcement agencies should establish partnerships with organizations and leaders in minority communities. The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, partners with the NAACP and ACLU, and the Savannah Police Department places ads in minority publications and recruits at historically black schools.24 The Atlanta Police Department works with the city’s federal workforce development organization to reach out to minority youth and provide support for applicants, as well as advertising in Hispanic, gay and lesbian, and military publications.25

The Oklahoma City Police Department’s Cadet programs are a promising model for engaging young minority students who are interested in careers in law enforcement. Through a partnership with local technical schools, OCPD accepts a class of 35 inner-city high school juniors each year to enroll concurrently in the Law Enforcement Services program at Metropolitan Technology Centers, allowing them to earn their security guard license by the time they graduate. After graduation, the students can participate in a the OCPD Cadet Program, which provides support finding jobs and security work opportunities at public events. The department hopes to hire successful graduates of these programs as officers to work in the same neighborhoods they grew up in.

Other law enforcement agencies also have targeted recruiting efforts; Tulsa Police Department regularly travels to recruit bilingual officers out-of-state. Oklahoma law enforcement agencies should initiate or step up these efforts in order to grow the diversity of their applicant base. Advertising in local publications directed at Hispanic and black communities and reaching out to Langston University, a historically black institution, may be positive first steps for such outreach efforts. Affinity clubs and Greek organizations at other higher education institutions may also present opportunities. Building trust with minority communities requires a long-term, good faith effort to increase racial diversity, and to allow that diversity to change an agency for the better.

Review Hiring Policies and Results

Some hiring policies that appear neutral can unintentionally exclude minority applicants. By reviewing the reasons that exclude minority candidates, agencies can reexamine the assumptions that underlie certain criteria and change policies and practices that unnecessarily exclude underrepresented candidates who may be otherwise qualified. For example, a review by the Atlanta Police Department found that many minority applicants were denied because of driving violations or poor credit and decided to grant waivers on these requirements on a case-by-case basis.

Oklahoma law enforcement agencies should review the results of their hiring processes. If there are specific areas of the application that exclude a greater number minority candidates, departments should consider revising criteria or allowing case-by-case exceptions. Such flexibility can be critical to addressing a pattern of excluding applicants of color.

Establish Mentorship Programs and Leadership Training

In order to create an atmosphere that retains minority officers, agencies should strive to ensure that they feel supported and are given opportunities to advance. Because minority and female officers are often underrepresented in leadership, increasing diversity at the top should be a priority when seeking to create a workforce that reflects the community. The Madison Police Department and Lansing Police Department both operate formal mentoring programs that pair new officers with veterans to guide them.26

Because the most visible representatives of law enforcement are its leaders, diversity at the highest levels of leadership is especially helpful in improving law enforcement relationships with minority communities. In Atlanta, Sergeant M.D. Mitchell explains, all officers can find someone in their line of command who they can identify with, as well as someone from different racial or cultural backgrounds who can help to bridge gaps in their understanding. Simply by integrating different cultural experiences into the chain of command, an agency “becomes less monolithic and less insular, and discussion within the department surrounding racial issues and reforms becomes more likely.”27

Oklahoma law enforcement agencies should establish mentorship programs and leadership training with the explicit goal of retaining and promoting officers that reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. In most cases, this can likely be done at little or no cost to the department, though it would require a cultural adjustment and buy-in among leadership.

Implement Best Practices in Psychological Evaluation

During the hiring process, it is critical that agencies collect as much useful information as possible to evaluate the suitability of a candidate for the demands of the job. For this reason, most agencies perform psychological evaluations of candidates to screen for personality traits and other indicators of mental fitness. According to the most recent data, nearly all departments serving populations of more than 25,000 perform some type of psychological evaluation on new officers, compared to only 48 percent of departments serving populations under 2,500.28 Oklahoma agencies should ensure they are employing best practices in screening candidates for the right psychological profile.

Use Validated Psychological Evaluations and Interviews

The effectiveness of popular psychological evaluations in determining the best candidates is the subject of debate. While the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has laid out the best practices for such evaluations, it stops short of recommending a specific instrument to be used, only specifying that the instrument be reliable, valid, and backed by empirical evidence of their utility in evaluating public safety applicants.29

Two of the most common instruments for preemployment psychological evaluations are the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the California Personality Inventory (CPI). Both the Oklahoma Police Department (OKCPD) and Tulsa Police Department (TPD) use the CPI for preemployment evaluations, and OKCPD also uses the MMPI after an offer has been extended but before starting academy. Pre-hiring instruments like the CPI are used to identify personality traits that are desirable in successful officers. The MMPI was originally used as a measure of “psychological maladjustment for assessing patients seeking psychiatric help.” Due to restrictions under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the MMPI, which seeks to “screen out” candidates based on psychopathology indicators, can only be performed after an offer is extended to a candidate.30

A review of the extensive research on several instruments found the correlations of MMPI with future performance – measured by supervisor performance evaluations – to be “equivocal at best,” and research on the usefulness of the CPI to be too limited to draw any firm conclusions.31 However, absent the availability of public safety-specific instruments, these are probably the most useful, and some studies do show correlation between certain indicators and future performance. Paying close attention to scores on emotional dysfunction and interpersonal function may be especially useful.32

Encourage Disclosure of Mental Health Issues and Implement Regular Mental Health Checks

The duties of a law enforcement officer can be challenging and stressful, and many officers may experience psychological problems after they are on the job. Often, the most stressful aspect of an officer’s job is not the daily challenges of the job itself, but stresses arising from not feeling adequately supported by their leadership.33 For the good of the officer, the law enforcement agency, and the community, those who are experiencing psychological problems should be encouraged to seek help without fear of facing consequences. There is no way to screen out every potential problem officer through pre-employment evaluations, but encouraging officers to seek help when they need it is crucial to prevent psychological issues from developing into problem behaviors.

Even better, proactively reaching out to officers by offering annual mental health checks may help to identify problems early on. Oklahoma law enforcement agencies should consider implementing a suicide prevention program designed specifically for officers. Encouraging each officer to complete a short, voluntary mental health check with the provider of the officer’s choice can accomplish this in a low-pressure manner.34 A more comprehensive program may yield even more impressive results: a Montreal program involving officer training, a helpline, supervisor training, and publicity campaign led to a 79 percent decrease in the suicide rate over 12 years, while nearby police departments experienced growing suicide rates.35

Area 4: Collect and Publish Data on Key Performance Measures

As Oklahoma law enforcement agencies implement reforms to rebuild trust in their communities, they must commit to getting the clearest possible understanding of how well their efforts are working. To this end, agencies should collect and publish data on key law enforcement activity indicators like stops, arrests, and use-of-force complaints. Data that shows measurable reductions in use-of-force complaints will boost the credibility of leaders take political risks in order to change entrenched habits. By conforming to national standards of collection and making this data public, agencies can understand their progress on key issues, identify targets, and be more accountable to themselves and the public they serve.

Several national projects aim to aid data collection for law enforcement agencies, and Oklahoma agencies should consider joining them. For example, the National Justice Database launched by the Center for Policing Equity (CPE) currently has participation agreements with 40 law enforcement agencies across the country. “Too often law enforcement data are captured with an eye towards accounting or litigation, and without leveraging the data to optimize performance,” an introduction to the reporting process explains. “The city reports are designed to help fill that gap, providing straightforward statistical answers to some of the most pressing questions that cut across law enforcement agencies.”36 The reports provided through the Justice Database help to answer two questions: “How am I doing? And how do I compare to everyone else?” Law enforcement agencies submit data on vehicle and pedestrian stops, use-of-force incidents, and officer surveys. CPE analysts then identify trends, produce charts, and provide interpretations of key indicators, including possible reasons for racial disparities.

The CPE model is fairly extensive and may not be appropriate for smaller agencies. Simply collecting and publishing data at the highest possible level of detail – whether by summary reports or incident-level tables – is an excellent start to understanding the baseline against which progress can be measured. The FBI is currently in the process of implementing a voluntary, national use-of-force data collection program that may be useful in implementing this process. To get the best possible state-level view, the Legislature should consider passing legislation to incentivize or require such reporting by law enforcement agencies.

Go on to the next section: Case Studies >>>


  1. Kimbriell Kelly, Sarah Childress, Steven Rich, “Forced reforms, Mixed results,” Washington Post, November 13, 2015,
  2. “Re-Engineering Training On Police Use of Force,” Police Executive Research Forum, 2015,
  3. Ibid., pg. 51
  4. Lillian Mongeau, “Oakland police share use of force training with public, media,” Oakland North, December 13, 2010,
  5. Ibid., pg. 55
  6. E.g., Joshua Correll, “Racial bias in the decision to shoot?” The Police Chief, 2009,, and other studies reviewed by Fair and Impartial Policing at
  7. Phillip Atiba Goff, et al., “The Science Of Justice Race, Arrests, and Police Use of Force,” Center for Policing Equity, 2016,
  8. “Overview: Fair and Impartial Policing,” 2016,
  9. “Eleventh Judicial Criminal Mental Health Project: Program Summary,” Eleventh Judicial Circuit, 2014,
  10. Campaign Zero, “Police Use of Force Project,”
  11. These policies are identified in Samuel Sinyangwe, “Examining the Role of Use of Force Policies in Ending Police Violence,” September 20, 2016,
  12. Campaign Zero, “Police Use of Force Project,”
  13. Lorie Fridell, Robert Lunney, Drew Diamond, and Bruce Kubu, “Racially Biased Policing: A Principled Response,” Police Executive Research Forum, 2001,
  14. Ibid., pg. 52
  15. Ibid., pg. 53
  16. “Community Policing Defined,” Community Oriented Policing Services, 2014,
  17. Ibid., pg. 7
  18. Chelsea Washington, “Community policing efforts are being noticed,” Fox 25,
  19. Jarrel Wade, “Mayor Bynum creates commission focused on community policing,” Tulsa World, December 16, 2016,
  20. Community Oriented Policing Services, “Collaborative Reform,” U.S. Department of Justice,
  21. Lydia Wheeler, “DOJ rolls back program intended to identify problems in police departments,” The Hill, September 15, 2017,
  22. “Police Department Race and Ethnicity Demographic Data,”
  23. “Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement,” U.S. Department of Justice and Equal Opportunity Commission, October 2016,
  24. Batya Ungar-Sargon, “Lessons for Ferguson in Creating a Diverse Police Department,” FiveThirtyEight, January 5, 2015,
  25. Alexa Kasdan, “Increasing Diversity in Police Departments: Strategies and Tools for Human Rights Commissions and Others,” Kennedy School of Government’s Executive Session on Human Rights Commissions and Criminal Justice, October 2006,
  26. U.S. Department of Justice and Equal Opportunity Commission, p. 34
  27. Ungar-Sargon
  28. “Local Police Departments, 2007,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2010,
  29. Police Psychological Services Section, “Preemployment Psychological Evaluation Guidelines,” International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2014,
  30. Jonathan Lough and Kathryn Von Treuer, “A critical review of psychological instruments used in police officer selection,” Policing, 2013,
  31. Ibid.
  32. Anthony M. Tarescavage, JoAnne Brewster, David M. Corey, and Yossef S. Ben-Porath, “Use of Prehire Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2–Restructured Form (MMPI-2-RF) Police Candidate Scores to Predict Supervisor Ratings of Posthire Performance,” American Psychological Association, Society for Clinical Psychology, 2015,
  33. Laurence Miller, “Stress in Policing: Syndromes and Strategies,” President’s Task Force on 21 Century Policing, February 23, 2015,
  34. “The Annual Police Mental Health Check,” The Badge of Life,
  35. Brian Mishara and Normand Martin, “Effects of a Comprehensive Police Suicide Prevention Program,” Crisis Journal, 2012,
  36. “National Justice Database,” Center for Policing Equity, 2017,


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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