Rumors have begun to swirl in conservative circles in recent weeks about a possible defunding of the OCPD by the City Council. The rumors were fueled, at least in part, by a misleading article published by
The Oklahoman on May 4th. The article begins by stating, “Oklahoma City’s proposed 2021-22 budget includes $300,000 for mental health crisis response, a step toward relieving police of some responsibilities and reducing chances that encounters between police and residents end in violence.”
Taken on face value, and combined with the fact that Mayor Holt did form a Mayor’s Law Enforcement Policy Task Force in July of last year, the article does seem to give credence to the fears that the Council was set to strip over a quarter of a million dollars out of the police budget to fuel the same kind of “community policing” efforts that have made liberal cities like Portland, Seattle, and Minneapolis a cesspool of violence and destruction.
Upon hearing these rumors, Ignite Liberty reached out to newly-elected Councilman Bradley Carter (Ward 1) and Councilwoman Barbara Young (Ward 3) to determine their legitimacy. As it turns out, there was much more to the truth than The Oklahoman’s article let on.
Carter helped to clarify the budget process and how budgets are proposed and approved. “The OCPD is the one who put together their budget request. We don’t just tell them what they can and cannot have. They present their budget request to the Council, and we vote to approve it.” Carter added, “Chief Gourley did an outstanding job of preparing and presenting this year’s budget.”
In regards as to whether the OCPD’s budget is likely to be approved, Carter stated, “I don’t think there’s anyway the budget won’t be approved. Even if we did disapprove it, which is highly unlikely, OKC’s Charter mandates that we would have to go into binding arbitration with the OCPD to finalize the budget. In that scenario, an independent firm would be brought in to conduct the mediation.”
“In that highly unlikely scenario,” Carter continued, “the OCPD would likely at least get everything they’re asking for, if not more. The vast majority of everyone on the council fully support Chief Gourley and the work his outstanding officers and staff have done, and want to make sure they have all of the funding they need to keep the citizens of Oklahoma City safe.”
Carter also pointed out that the OKC Charter mandates that the contracts with the OCPD and OCFD be renewed by a certain date. If they are not renewed, the Charter mandates that the contracts be auto-renewed with the same funding as the previous year. “It’s public knowledge that the OCPD had to take a cut in funding last year due to anticipated COVID-related shortfalls in the City’s tax revenue,” Carter added. “This year, the OCPD is set to receive a substantial increase over last year.”
Indeed, the Oklahoman’s article does state towards the end that the OCPD’s budget is set to increase from $204.4 million from last year’s budget to $211.2 million in this year’s. This would be the largest budget in the department’s history.
The Mysterious $300,000
So what was the $300,000 the Oklahoman talked about that would be used to “relieve police of some responsibilities”? As it turns out, that statement may be more a liberal pipe dream than actual reality. The Oklahoman’s article accurately states that City Manager Craig Freeman has set aside $1.3 million out of the City’s budget to, “develop the alternative to police response to mental health calls and to begin implementing recommendations of a community policing review group and of task forces on police reform and homelessness.”
According to Councilwoman Young, the $300,000 is part of that amount, and is not coming out of the current OCPD budget. Young also pointed out what the Oklahoman failed to, namely that “the $300,000 is all going to help the police department better fulfill their duties to protect and serve the citizens.” Young continued, “due to the overwhelming shortage we have of officers, due both to early retirement and low recruiting numbers, we have a very real problem when it comes to having enough officers to adequately handle all of the calls that come in.”
Young highlighted how this shortfall creates stress on the department, “many instances we have officers who have to go out on calls alone, when maybe they really need to have additional officers with them. This isn’t a reflection on how the department is handling calls. It’s merely a statement of the reality we’re in.”
Drawing on her experience as a former 911 operator, Young pointed out, “the problem this situation creates is in where to best use the forces available. If you have multiple high-profile calls, such as murder, armed robbery, etc., coming in at the same time as a mental health call, and you don’t have enough officers to cover all of them, which calls do they get sent on? Perhaps, in some instances, it would be better to send a specially trained social worker to handle a non-violent mental health call rather than taking resources away from the more high-priority calls. We look forward to hearing all the potential solutions that will be presented to the council soon.”
Citizen Engagement Urged
When asked about how that $300,000 is going to be used, and if it could be used to hire new officers, Young said, “the options are currently being discussed and debated by the Mayor’s Law Enforcement Policy Task Force, and 21CP [the community policing review group mentioned above]. Once they have their recommendations, they will bring it to the Council.” This is where both Young and Carter urged citizens to get involved. “The citizens could be involved in the process right now. They can submit their ideas, and concerns, on how to better improve the police department directly to 21CP.”
The problem, as both Young and Carter put it, is whose voices are being heard right now. “Pretty much the only voices that we’re hearing from are the ones who aren’t fans of the police, many of whom would prefer to see the department defunded. We desperately need citizens who love and respect the police to make their voices heard as well.”
More than just giving the police an “atta boy”, which they absolutely deserve and should receive from every citizen. Young stressed that this is a real opportunity for citizens to be part of the policy-making process. “All of the input that 21CP receives will go directly into forming the policy recommendations that they ultimately send to the Council. This is the opportunity for citizens to have a real, meaningful impact on the safety of their community. It is absolutely vital that they get involved.”
The Time to Get Involved is Now
The email that citizens can send their suggestions and comments for how to improve the OCPD is email@example.com. While no one in the conservative circles are thrilled with Mayor Holt’s decision to create the Law Enforcement Policy Task Force (a tactic often seen in leftist cities), that doesn’t change the reality that this group will have tremendous input on how the OCPD carries our their job to protect and service the citizens of Oklahoma City. Unless the passionate, conservative citizens of Oklahoma City get involved in this process, we may very well see the same policies that Portland, et al, have implemented become part of the OCPD’s SOP.
When asked about what possible uses are being floated for the $300,000, Young replied, “it could be anything from training additional CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) training for officers, to hiring and training social workers to follow up on mental health calls.” Young stressed, “This is why we need citizens to get involved in this process and make a difference.”
Though Young wasn’t sure whether the City’s budgetary process would allow for the $1.3 million to be used to hire new officers, it’s obvious that increasing the force size should be the number one concern. Both Carter and Young pointed out how an audit performed about 10 years ago showed that the OCPD was understaffed by more than 300 officers. With the population growth of OKC over the last decade, that deficit has only gotten worse.
Does the OCPD need to be better trained? Absolutely. They should be the finest trained, and best equipped police force in the country. But without the necessary manpower to put enough officers on the streets, all the training and equipment in the world won’t make much of a difference.
While concerns about Mayor Holt’s leftist leanings are certainly justified, we as citizens have a real chance to be a part of the solution here. OKC is not Tulsa, where the Mayor wields a great deal of power. Here, the Mayor is simply one vote on the Council. If we as citizens don’t get involved in this process, the fate of the OCPD, and the City of OKC, will rest solidly at our feet. It’s time to do our part.