OU’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion held an hour-long “OUPD and the community” webinar Wednesday afternoon. OUPD chiefs, including the new chief of all campuses, said diversity trainings have had a positive impact on police officers, and they will continue trying to make an impact within the community.
The webinar was moderated by Belinda Higgs Hyppolite, vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, to give OU community members a chance to hear from OUPD chiefs about policing in the current climate. This event was also the first public event for the new chief of police for all three campuses, Nate Tarver.
“It’s a noble profession, (but) we are going through some dark times right now,” Tarver said. “At the end of the day hopefully we can and will make a difference and make things better for everyone.”
Hyppolite acknowledged the recent development in the Breonna Taylor case, where no officers were directly charged for her death.
“I want to also acknowledge that this instance, and other instances where it seems like there is a free pass for law enforcement officers, continues to set a precedence and it continues to drive a wedge between the police and the communities in which they serve,” Hyppolite said. “So for me today, I think that this conversation is very timely, because we are working to be together, we know that we need law enforcement as an active part of our communities.”
Tarver said it’s important for police officers to have a “servant’s heart” and be visible within their communities.
“It’s about having a servant's heart and trying to treat people in a manner that they feel like they need to be treated,” Tarver said. “I think every person is valuable and I have an opportunity to learn something from every person I’ve come in contact with.”
Walter Evans, the chief of police for the OU-Tulsa campus, said part of the struggle within many communities is a “them-versus-us mindset.”
“Sadly what we're seeing more so now than we have in my entire career is a them-versus-us mindset on both sides of the coin,” Evans said. “I'll just admit that a lot of that is because of the individuals in blue shirts who have, through their actions, caused that them-versus-us mindset. We have to get beyond that.”
Evans said the key to getting beyond that mindset is transparency with the community.
“Sometimes we forget that it's the community that put us here, it's not the other way around,” Evans said. “We work for the community as the community is who gives us legitimacy, we don't have that on our own. And so if we want to retain that legitimacy, we have to really be transparent.”
Evans also talked about the training and education every officer must go through and continue to do throughout their careers.
“They must have a minimum of 644 hours of training … Norman has a four month training program with an experienced officer to make sure they understand university policies, department policies, and reinforce everything that they learned in (training),” Evans said. “In addition to that, every single year, a police officer must have 25 hours of continuing education and the state mandates that we have at least two hours of that training be on mental health.”
Tarver said the training currently going on is for limiting bias in policing.
“We're undergoing our last series of trainings with the anti-defamation league, and they are training on things like how to manage bias for law enforcement officers,” Tarver said. “So that's the stepping stone to help us to understand individual differences and also the differences groups have and to understand that we have biases within ourselves, and to manage that when we're dealing with the public.”
Tarver acknowledged resistance from some officers with the diversity and inclusion trainings.
“We've had some people or some officers who were somewhat resistant to that type of training, and it's because I think the last term I heard (them describe it) was ‘white male bashing,’” Tarver said. “I think (the training) broke it down to a level that people can say, ‘Oh, I need to think a little bit differently about some of those things’ so it was good training, and it's also training that we will continue to do.”
Tarver also said if any department receives a complaint on any officer, they will investigate it to its full extent.
“We are committed to investigating each incident as it comes,” Tarver said. “If any complaint comes into our department, and all these gentlemen will tell you that we investigate them to the fullest extent, it doesn't matter what it is.”
Tarver ended by echoing a message from OU President Joseph Harroz on becoming a united university.
“In the vision of President Harroz, we are one university, and that's what we're trying to become,” Tarver said. ”We're trying to consolidate as much as we can to our practices of being one university. That's one of the reasons why they chose me to do the job that I'm here to do with these fine gentlemen's help. I think we can get there, it's going to take a little bit of time. Each campus does have a different slight function, as by nature of who we are and what we are, but we can do this.”