The Norman City Council discussed a second affordable housing option and received an update regarding data analysis of the Norman Police Department’s use-of-force incidents and school resource officers during a Tuesday evening study session.
City staff was made aware of a competing offer by the Office of Veterans Affairs for a VA Hospital at 1210 W. Robinson St., which the council has been looking at for several months as an affordable housing complex. This clinic would include a 90-120 day intermediate facility, 25-30 nursing home beds, a 25-patient resident rehabilitation treatment program and employ over 150 personnel.
The council voted twice on the purchase of property at 1210 W. Robinson, voting the proposal down on Aug. 9 in a 4-3 vote with two councilors absent and later approving the proposal two weeks later on Aug. 23 in a 5-3 vote.
After the council’s discussion at the Aug. 23 meeting, a new opportunity arose for an affordable housing complex: a former hotel located at 309 Norman Center Court, which has been listed on the market for over 18 months for $3.75 million.
The complex has over 60 rooms, though the finished room count would likely be lower, with three Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant rooms and an elevator. Darrel Pyle, the Norman city manager, estimates that the remodel for this complex — over 30,000 square feet — would be less substantial and costly than the Robinson property.
The hotel is located behind a bus stop and is about 1,100 feet away from residential areas, according to assistant city attorney Anthony Purinton. City staff is currently seeking an independent appraisal.
No council members objected to proceeding with exploring the Center Court property.
In addition to conversations regarding a new affordable housing complex, David McLeod, associate director of OU’s School of Social Work and a former police officer, presented his findings based on data from the NPD’s use-of-force reports over five years. McLeod said suspicious person, fights and disturbance calls were found to have some kind of racial disparity, adding “multiple truths” were found in the reports.
McLeod aimed to explore data taken in a use-of-force report from the Center for Policing Equity, which showed that NPD officers were 3.4 times more likely to use force toward Black people than white people.
McLeod said the majority of police interactions did not involve force, though his data included only incidents that did involve force. He noted that for every one disturbance call that ends in force, about 500 end peacefully. For calls regarding fights, McLeod said it's one force call for every 145.
The data McLeod used also showed the statistics surrounding the police officer that used force in a situation, including their age, years in their position, race and gender, but did not find that these factors were “statistically significant.”
Ward 1 Councilmember Brandi Studley said she was proud of the standard set by the NPD, but the data showed that Black people are still more likely to face force than other groups. She asked McLeod if the data could disprove racial disparity, which he said that it could not.
Before Studley’s question, Ward 3 Councilmember Kelly Lynn asked if McLeod found any racial disparity within the data set and if it showed any systemic reasoning behind use of force. McLeod said that there wasn’t anything that would imply race was the sole reason behind an act of force, however, he could conclude that systemic factors stemming from the community were probable.
McLeod said that even if any system was completely perfect, if it were placed into a community with historical inequity that makes life “a little bit harder for some than it is for others,” it causes different experiences in that hypothetically perfect system.
McLeod said he did not investigate use of force in school resource officer reports specifically, adding most of the incidents were not criminally related. Only about five arrests take place in Norman Public Schools per year, which can include adults.
Norman Police Chief Kevin Foster said he would like officers to collect as much data in the SRO program as possible to ensure that officers are not contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline for students. As part of the NPD and NPS’ partnership that supports the SRO program, police are not to be used in disciplinary action.
For people to understand concerns about student resource officers, Studley suggested returning to the 2020 budget hearing that resulted in the council decreasing NPD’s proposed budget increase by $865,000.
“You can’t control people’s biases … so they may use police as the rule enforcer. Even though our school system and police department may not have (use of force) as a robust thing … it’s still happening in our school system,” Studley said.