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Q&A: Researchers Hope Data Can Help Tulsa Police Avoid Using Force

Tulsa Police Department

A recent study found there wasn’t a relationship between race and Tulsa Police officers’ decisions to use force. Researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Cincinnati studied Tulsa to find ways to help Tulsa police in their encounters with the public.

StateImpact Oklahoma's Quinton Chandler spoke with University of Texas at San Antonio professor Michael Smith about the study:

Quinton Chandler: Thanks for joining us, Professor Smith. Tell me about your recommendations for the Tulsa Police Department.  

Professor Michael Smith: That they expand their use of force reporting policy to capture what we know is to be the majority of force that’s used – low level kind of stuff.

One of the things that we didn’t really have information on that is important to know is, (were)  … the citizens who were involved in these cases … under the influence of alcohol or drugs?

Did they have mental health issues? These are known predictors of force in other studies and we didn’t really have the data to understand the impact of those factors in Tulsa.

So one of our recommendations (was) that the (Tulsa Police Department) improve the the breadth and the depth of their data that they collect.

I think another important one that’s oftentimes overlooked is a recommendation that we made that they begin to capture instances where deadly force could have been used, but was not.

Police departments typically document pretty well instances where deadly force was used. But what we don’t know very much about are instances where it would have been authorized by law and policy, but the agency – the officers – didn’t use it.

That is a really important piece of information to know in order to compare against cases where deadly force was used. I think our final recommendation was, well, there are two of them.

One was the Tulsa PD begin to look at their canine policies (and) benchmark them against other sort of best practices for canine use nationally.

In the same vein, our recommendation is that they sort of look at their use of force policy in training and again, sort of compare it to known best practices and to adjust their policy and training accordingly. 

Chandler: Tell me a little bit about the main goals of your broader research that Tulsa was  filling a gap in. 

Smith: So we have the narratives when officers use force. He or she writes a detailed narrative about what happened. So the officer says, ‘I did this and then the citizen did that, and then the citizen did this, and then I did that.’

So, we have these things broken down in great detail. So, if you think about the larger goals of the project: sort of understanding the factors that influence the use of force during arrests (and) in cases that (where) force was not used … understanding that sort of fine grained interaction between officers and citizens, we think is going to be a sort of a significant contribution to what we know about use of force nationally. 

Chandler: Once you’ve finished kind of breaking down these steps that lead up to force, and  understanding what causes police using force on civilians, what’s the next big question? 

Smith: I mean, there’s been considerable national attention paid to the use of deadly force by police in the last five years since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

That sort of touched off, I think, a national conversation around the use of deadly force in particular and whether or not it’s driven by race. So, I think that’s an issue that continues to cry out for additional research.

The data that we’re suggesting that Tulsa begin to collect on instances where deadly force could have been used but was not is an important component to that research. Those kind of data don’t exist very, very frequently.

Certainly they don’t exist on a national level and most agencies still collect them either. But, it’s an important piece of that puzzle, right, of that deadly force puzzle in particular. 

Chandler: Well, thank you so much, Professor Smith. I appreciate you hopping on the call and talking about your research. 

Smith: You’re more than welcome.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

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Quinton joined the team at StateImpact Oklahoma in 2017, focusing on criminal justice reporting. He is an OSU grad with degrees in Economics and Marketing who got his start in radio at KOSU. After graduation, Quinton served as Morning Edition Host/General Assignment Reporter at KBBI Radio in Homer, Alaska and Education Reporter at KTOO Public Media in Juneau, Alaska. Quinton loves writing, reading and has an intense relationship with his Netflix account.
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