Study analyzes use of force practices at Tulsa Police Department

Universities looking into Tulsa police's use of force

TULSA, Okla. — A new study on Tulsa police's "use of force" practices shows that residents who become physical with police are more likely to be pepper-sprayed, shocked with a stun gun or even bitten by a K-9 officer than shot or subdued by other physical means.

On Wednesday, a joint study by the University of Texas at San Antonio, the University of Cincinnati and the International Association of Chiefs of Police was presented to city leaders, Tulsa police administrators and Mayor G.T. Bynum.

The study comes as the city is looking to evaluate its policing practices and improve its relationship with residents in minority and higher crime communities.

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In total, 31,950 arrests were analyzed between January 2016 through June 2018. "Use of force" was only used in 1.7% of total arrests by the Tulsa Police Department. Of those arrests, only 7.7% of those were considered to have used the most severe use of force.

The study found that police used pepper spray and stun guns overwhelmingly to subdue a combative subject in order to avoid actions that could cause injury.

Gender played a more significant role than race, researchers said. Women are far less likely to have force used on them than men.

Asian Americans and Native Americans were the groups that saw the highest risk of having “use of force” used on them in Tulsa. In third place are the categories of "black" and "black young men", but there was no evidence that anyone was using force based solely on racial biases.

The study took issue with the TPD's K-9 units because a large majority of injuries in "use of force" situations came from dog bites. Research showed that Tulsa police don’t have a canine policy involving the dogs they use to look for suspects. Researchers said officers were using dogs not to just search for suspects, but to subdue and apprehend suspects using a dog bite.

Nearly 28% of "use of force" incidents in Tulsa Police were from the department's K-9 unit while other squads had use of force rates in the single digits.

Researchers said Tulsa police should come up with a new policy for its K-9s that emphasizes the dogs are a tool to seek suspects and not a weapon against them.

The study was not able to decipher between suspects who were mentally ill, intoxicated or in a certain mood in anyway when they interacted with police because that was never documented in any arrest reports.

Researchers gave five recommendations to Tulsa police and city leaders to implement:

  • (1) TPD should change its use of force reporting policy. Officers should report force any time they use more than a firm grip to control a civilian.
  • (2) Improve documentation of force, injuries and civilian demeanor.
  • (3) Capture instances when deadly force could have been used but was not in order to study deescalation best practices.
  • (4) Review the training and force practices of the police canine unit.
  • (5) Review use of force policy and training annually and don't be afraid to update it.

A final, full analysis is expected in January.

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