Oklahoma police chiefs express concerns about recruiting

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Growing anti-police sentiment around the country could have a profoundly negative impact on the ability to recruit quality officers, police chiefs from two Oklahoma cities told state lawmakers on Thursday.

Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin and Eufaula Police Chief Mark Goodwin testified before the Senate Public Safety Committee during one of several interim legislative hearings on law enforcement being held ahead of the 2021 session, which starts in February.

The hearings follow months of tense protests across the country over the police killing of Black people and the June shootings of two Tulsa police officers, one of whom died. Tulsa also has been the scene of protests over killings by police, including the 2016 shooting of a Black man who was holding his hands over his head by a white police officer who was later acquitted. Earlier this month, another white Tulsa officer was charged with reckless conduct for shooting a Black man during a traffic stop.

Franklin said attracting officers to serve in Oklahoma’s second-largest city was already a challenge because Tulsa requires officers to have a bachelor’s degree, and the coronavirus pandemic has limited recruiting on college campuses.

“Recruiting has become much more difficult," Franklin said. “Quite frankly, who would want to come do this job with everything placed upon us."

Despite the pressure, Franklin said officers in his department have “circled the wagons," and that morale has actually improved at the department following the killing of Sgt. Craig Johnson and the wounding of rookie officer Aurash Zarkeshan, who is still recovering. It was the Tulsa Police Department's first line-of-duty death in 24 years, Franklin said.

In Eufaula, a city of about 2,800 in eastern Oklahoma, Goodwin said that despite community support, his officers are concerned about being the targets of random attacks. He said several officers recently expressed reservations about appearing in a photo in the local newspaper for fear of being publicly identified.

Members of the committee did not detail any plans for specific legislation, but many were vocal about their unwavering support for law enforcement. Earlier this week, a state senator from northwestern Oklahoma said he intends to introduce a bill that would make it a hate crime to deliberately assault someone for being a police officer, first responder or active-duty member of the military.