With the trials of some officers allegedly involved in Tulsa's long-simmering police corruption scandal rescheduled by a federal judge to begin on May 31, public attention once again will be focused on a spectacular series of charges that includes bribery, perjury, conspiracy, stolen drug money, drug distribution, witness tampering and civil rights violations.
It's a situation that few would dispute has tarnished the reputation of the Tulsa Police Department, having drawn the attention of no less than The Wall Street Journal. But some observers are hopeful the upcoming trials will bring some closure to the issue and allow the department to begin repairing whatever damage has been done.
"In speaking to the public, everyone, of course, is extremely concerned," said District 2 City Councilor Rick Westcott, who served on the department in the 1970s. "To be fair, there have not been any convictions yet, although it bothers people to think their officers could be guilty of this kind of betrayal of the public trust. But we've still got a lot of people who have tremendous confidence in our police officers and their leadership."
Victor Ajlouny, the spokesman and political consultant for Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 93, acknowledged the allegations against the four current officers and one former officer are serious.
"I think anytime a police department has one of their own charged with a crime, it's disheartening and hard to believe," he said. "You don't expect this to happen."
But he said many officers are looking forward to the trials so they can make up their own minds about what is alleged to have taken place.
"I can tell you there is a feeling the government ought to at least put forward some evidence against some of the officers charged with these things, and the rank and file hasn't seen anything yet," he said. "It's hard for them to think one of their own has committed a crime, and they'd like to see if it's true."
Westcott said he hasn't spoken to any officers about the scandal, "so I don't know if it's really on their radar. My best guess is the officers are letting this play out in court. My sense is that this isn't something that's in the front of their minds on a daily basis."
Ajlouny supported that contention.
"You need to understand police officers," he said. "When they're out on the street, they have to stay very focused on their job. They can't get distracted by other things. They have to compartmentalize issues. Otherwise, they can't do their job. So it's probably back there some place in their minds, but they can't dwell on it."
District 5 City Councilor Chris Trail, who was endorsed by the FOP when he ran for office two years ago, said he sees little evidence that the public has lost faith in the department, particularly at the restaurant he manages, Ike's Chili, which attracts a number of officers.
"Actually, I think they're pretty concerned," he said of the citizens he's spoken to. "But, you know, I'll still have two or three officers here a day who get a good response from the public.
They'll go up to them and thank them for their service."
Trail credited Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan with initiating a number of changes to department policy that were designed to crack down on officers found guilty of lying in reports or other legal documents.
"That provides a lot of credibility," he said. "There have been a lot of safeguards put in place now so (illegal activity) wouldn't be allowed to take place. They've made it so if an officer gets caught lying, he'll be fired."
While acknowledging the department's image couldn't help but suffer in the wake of the kind of allegations the accused officers face, Trail said Tulsa Police have been proactive about regaining public trust.
"With the inroads they've made with community policing, they've really helped their image," he said. "The public I deal with has a good appreciation for the police and what they're doing."
Westcott said he has no doubts the right man is now guiding the department through one of its worst storms.
"I've known Chuck since I was 16 or 17 years old," he said. "And I have great confidence in his ability to lead and require absolute integrity of his police officers. Whatever changes in management might need to be made, Chuck Jordan will make those."
The allegations have left a dark cloud over the department and the city in general for much of the past year, Westcott said, and he believes the upcoming trials will give Tulsans the chance to get past that.
"I think the citizens, the police department and individual officers need some kind of closure, one way or another," he said. "Then we can all put this behind us and move forward."
Ajlouny said he's confident that most citizens are reserving judgment on the guilt of the officers until they see the evidence presented at the trials. He, too, looks forward to the closure the trials will provide, and he says officers will continue to do their jobs no matter what.
"The rank-and-file officers are not going to abandon their positions or responsibilities," he said. "They're professionals ... and they realize this is beyond their control at this point."
Westcott noted this isn't the first time the department has found itself embroiled in controversy. In 1957, he said, Police Commissioner Jay Jones, Police Chief Paul Livingston and 14 other members of the department were found guilty in federal court of conspiring to import liquor into Oklahoma, which was then a dry state.
"It was a huge scandal," Westcott said. "It kind of rocked everybody's world back then. But the officers and leadership regained the citizens' trust and recovered from it, and we're going to recover from this, too."
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