POSTED ON JUNE 20, 2007:
Good Cop, Bad Cop?
Temp police chief and Mayor say Tulsa has enough police officers
"My directive from the Mayor is four words: 'Run the police department,'" Interim Police Chief David Bostrom recently told UTW.
How he carries out that charge is entirely up to him, he said, because, beyond that simple directive, Mayor Kathy Taylor has given Tulsa's new top crime fighter no other guidelines for how best to protect Oklahoma's greatest city.
With his 35 years of distinguished law enforcement experience--much of which has been in some of the nation's meanest and most crime-infested metro areas--it's hard to believe the Mayor would do anything but step back and just let him do his thing.
Hard to believe, maybe; but not impossible, apparently.
According to some members of the city's law enforcement community (most of whom naturally preferred not to be named as they spoke out against their new boss), Bostrom is little more than the Mayor's puppet--providing a face and a badge to front her own plans for the running of the Tulsa Police Department as he parrots her ideas as his own.
One issue in particular that has the fuzz so frazzled are the Mayor and the Chief's ideas about police manpower levels.
"Tulsa needs to bring up its ratio of police to citizens," Taylor said during her pre-mayoral days as she was vying for the seat (as UTW columnist Michael Bates has posted for posterity on his blog at BatesLine.com/archives/003209.html.).
However, when she crafted a budget this year that only funded 20 new police academy seats, many officers felt she was reneging on a campaign promise.
Darin Filak, president of Tulsa's chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the 20 new officers won't be enough to offset the force's attrition rate of 2.2 officers per month and maintain the current ranks of 814 sworn officers.
The Mayor was already catching heat, though, for her stated plan to hire a new police chief from outside the department--a plan the Civil Service Commission upheld when it ruled in her favor last month in answer to a complaint filed by the three internal candidates she passed over for the job.
The three have also filed a civil lawsuit against Taylor.
It's worth noting that, while many of the aforementioned anonymous officers are unhappy with the Mayor over police manpower, some of those same officers have also told UTW in the past that they approved of her bringing in new blood to run the department--someone who might "think outside the box."
That's hardly a popular or prevalent attitude on the force, though, they said.
While she awaits the outcome of the civil lawsuit, Taylor appointed Bostrom to lead the department until conditions stabilize and a permanent chief can be appointed.
She introduced him to Tulsa's public on May 18.
Naturally, as the Mayor's handpicked top cop, Bostrom started catching his own share of the heat when he told City Councilors recently that maybe Tulsa doesn't need more police after all.
Rather than hiring more officers, Bostrom said TPD might be able to get better use out of the ones it already has.
Predictably, other representatives of the city's law enforcement community disagreed.
"Obviously, we feel we need more manpower," said the FOP prez.
Filak pointed to a study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as to an internal TPD study from last year that used IACP methodology, which said the department needs 213 more officers to get Tulsa's ratio of officers to citizens up to the regional average.
Sgt. Richard Alexander of TPD's Headquarters Division said Tulsa's current ratio is 2.03 officers per 1,000 citizens, compared to the regional average of 2.5 and the national average of 2.8.
When Taylor presented her budget and its funding for only 20 police academy graduates, she said, "In prior administrations, there were a couple of years when there were no graduates at all."
Filak, though, pointed to those years as his case in point.
"When Mayor LaFortune quit hiring new police for two years, there was a direct correlation between fewer officers on the street and crime going up," he told UTW.
"With fewer officers we cannot be proactive, just reactive," he explained.
"We'll come when you call and clean up the mess and take the reports after a crime already occurs, but we won't be able to be out there patrolling and preventing crimes from happening--the only way you can do that is with more police officers," he said.
Poems, Prayers and Promises
Not only do Filak and others disagree with the new chief over his ideas for police manpower levels, but many also doubt if he even agrees with those ideas himself.
Rather, they suspect Bostrom is giving his new boss a "get out of jail free"-card for going back on one of her campaign promises.
In the aforementioned campaign crime position paper by Taylor (once again, see BatesLine.com), she said, "Tulsa's overall crime rate is twice the national average. In the case of some crimes, it is even higher, especially for assaults, violent crimes, rapes, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts."
Later in the treatise, Taylor wrote, "Tulsa needs to bring up its ratio of police to citizens. But we need more than greater numbers of cops on the street. We need the smartest possible deployment of cops on the beat..."
As previously stated, today that ratio is 2.03 per thousand.
Last year, when Taylor wrote her paper, it was 2.00, according to Alexander, who conducted the internal manpower study referenced previously by Filak.
"We used an IACP model for our manpower study, and (Bostrom) used to work for IACP, but now, after the Mayor only budgets for 20 new officers, he comes out and says we don't need more police? What do you think is going on?" said one disgruntled officer.
Bostrom worked as a consultant for IACP on numerous projects in the past.
"Or maybe he disagrees with his own organization, but we think he's probably just doing what the Mayor wants him to do," the officer also said.
Since the two had previously been jousting over the issue via dueling press quotes and sound bites, Filak told UTW that Bostrom had requested a meeting with him to clarify his position about TPD not necessarily needing more police officers.
At that meeting, Filak said he asked him candidly, "Do you really believe this or is this what the Mayor wanted you to say?"
Since it was a private meeting, UTW asked Bostrom the same question.
He said the perception of him as the Mayor's "yes man" is "an unfortunate and knee-jerk reaction," and that the only instructions Taylor has given him are to simply run the police department.
As for his recommendations to the City Council, he said, "I have no clue if she agrees with me or not; I haven't had that conversation with her."
Bostrom said he disagrees, though, with using a per capita ratio of police to citizens as an indication of a city's level of safety.
"When I was in Washington, D.C., they had more police per capita than any other city in the country, but at the same time it was the murder capital of the United States," he said. "The per capita ratio is not a good measure."
He also said the methodology used for the manpower studies is based on a formula that wouldn't apply if his plans are implemented.
According to the IACP formula, police divide their time in thirds, with equal parts devoted to call-directed activities, administrative activities and self-directed activities.
Bostrom said civilians could be hired at a lesser cost to perform many of the administrative functions now performed by police, thereby freeing up resources and manpower for more work directly related to law enforcement, like patrolling or answering calls.
Also, he said police could be more effective by better prioritizing answers to calls.
Police wouldn't ignore calls, Bostrom said, but not every one should be answered in person by officers driving out to take a report.
As an example, he said, "When someone calls to report that their car has been stolen, the police can go out there to look at the spot where the car used to be and say, 'Yes, it's been stolen,' or they could just take the information over the phone."
Bostrom said he's planning for an IACP study on calls for service.
"It's not an extensive evaluation, but I want something that will be of benefit to the new chief," he said.
Bostrom said he wants better coordination of resources within the dispatch center, which decides if officers should be sent out in answer to service calls.
"I've not yet approached the communication center about this, but we're not in control of the communication center, and I want to see if there's something we can do about how we respond to calls," he said.
Rather than immediate responses by officers to calls for service, Bostrom said the dispatch center should consider delayed responses in some cases, taking information over the phone, or seeing if another agency might be better suited to cover certain calls.
Bostrom also said he's planning for "an internal study of all administrative positions that do not involve calls for service or investigations--stuff that could just as easily by done by non-sworn personnel."
Filak's hopes aren't very high, though, for the outcome of Bostrom's efforts to streamline the police department.
"Obviously, we agree that, if there are ways we can cut waste, we should, but we've been looking internally for years for ways to cut back," he said. "We're as efficient as we can be."
A Matter of Priorities?
Of course, Bostrom and the Mayor were asked simply--Why not just hire more police?
"Money," they both answered.
"Tulsa's operating on a limited budget," said Bostrom.
Taylor, though, said the 20 new hires were what TPD representatives told her would "keep us stable," and that pay and benefit increases have lowered the attrition rate from last year's 3.4 per month to today's 2.2.
Also, she pointed out, at 814, police ranks are already swelled well past the authorized 780 sworn personnel.
"We'd love to have the resources to hire more police," Taylor said, but 31 percent of the general fund is already budgeted for police while "significant cuts" have been made in other departments.
Filak isn't buying it.
"The city isn't as cash-strapped as they lead people to believe; their priorities just aren't where they should be," he said.
"We believe they play the shell game with the general fund--they keep the general fund spent down. Pat Connelly, the city's finance director, has admitted that they move money out of the general fund so we don't ask for raises," Filak also said.
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