Bill Citty - Community Relations
For more information visit these links:
Show 1713: Bill Citty - Community Relations
Air Date: March 26, 2017
Rob McClendon: Well, attitudes towards law enforcement often come down to something as simple as the color of your skin. In a national poll, 59 percent of white Americans report having confidence in the police, but only 37 percent of black Americans do. It’s a distrust that we’ve seen play out on the streets in city after city when police actions lead to a powder keg of racial tensions. I asked Chief Bill Citty how OKC-PD has avoided similar turmoil and his answer comes down to just two words: community relations.
Bill Citty: Well, you know, I like to think that one of the main differences is the fact that we just really communicate well. The minority community, city government, the police department, really have an open line of communication throughout the year. We don’t, you know, you don’t wait for something bad to happen. I hope that the minority community feels like, in general, that they’re, you know, that they’re treated more fairly by our department than I think you’ve seen in some places across the country. I think there’s a lot of agencies that have struggled. You know, the one thing that is very difficult is that it doesn’t matter who the agency is or what the event is, law enforcement ends up getting stereotyped across the country. If you take Ferguson for instance, you know, you shouldn’t really compare Ferguson to a major city police department like Oklahoma City. Training’s different. The people we hire are different, much more professional. There were a lot of problems and issues in Ferguson. It’s a much smaller community, less professional obviously. So it’s, you know, it’s very, very difficult, although that’s, that’s what’s happened. There’s a lot of things that even discuss officers when we see the videos and how bad that was and how wrong it was and how the officer reacted poorly in some of those cases, not all of ‘em, but in some of those cases. And all of law enforcement gets lumped into that as not being trained well or not, not dealing with the African-American community as well. So, you know, it affects us here. What I try to tell people is that the gap between, the relationship gap between minority community and, like, law enforcement’s always been fairly large. I mean, when I came down here 38 years ago, there was some distrust. I mean, it was, it was historical. It was something that, you know, had growed up, had gone from generation to generation. If you look back into the 50s and 60s and even further back, you know, there was a tremendous amount of discrimination in the way the minority communities were treated. And so, you know, that, those are individuals that are still with us today. Those are individuals that lived that and breathed that and have passed some of that down, and that’s hard to overcome. It takes, you have to work at it very, very hard, and I think we do here. I think we have a very strong minority community and that’s willing to communicate about the issues and a government here that’s really willing to listen and try to make changes for the better. So it’s really about communication. It’s really about developing those relationships, trying to have ‘em. It doesn’t, it’s not perfect, we still have those tensions here. We still have some of the distrust here. It still makes it hard for us to recruit African-Americans because of that distrust. But I think overall, it is better here.
Rob: So how do you break the cycle?
Citty: Well, you have to be pretty vigilant. I mean, you have to really, you have to get to know each other. You have to be face to face in an environment other than arrest situations. You don’t build relationships getting, taking one call after another in situations that are, are volatile, situations where we may have to arrest somebody. You have to, you have to have those discussions with each other, get to know each other constantly. You have to talk about issues. You have to, you have to show them and show other minority communities as to why you do things. You know, officers in many cases make an arrest, they don’t have time or don’t take the time to communicate well with individuals they’re having to deal with. You have to take some time to do that. You have to take time to sit down and say this is, this is what we’re up against. This is how we could use your help. This is why we do things. And at the same time, we have to listen to what their concerns are and what their feelings are because those are very real, and we have to try to respond to those. And we have to be responsible. If there’s changes that need to be made, then the police agency has to be willing to make it.
Rob: So let’s talk about the psychology of just what it takes to be an officer. What are you looking for in an applicant?
Citty: Well, we’re mainly looking for somebody that’s honest, somebody that can communicate. You know, we don’t require, Oklahoma City doesn’t require a college degree. We require education and college degree if you want to be a supervisor or mid-management. By the time you get mid-management, you have to have a bachelor’s degree. But we don’t on entry. We’re looking for primary character, you know, those types of things and honesty and are they able to communicate. You don’t have to have an education necessarily to be able to communicate very well. The police department will provide you with education, will help you pay for that education. So we’re just looking, we’re looking for good, good, honest, you know, people that really are interested in a profession and feel like they communicate well with a very diverse group of people. Because Oklahoma City, all communities are becoming a lot more diverse, and the department needs to be able to work within that community.
Rob: Yet law enforcement remains largely white and male. Females make up between 4 and 5 percent of the department, while Hispanics and African Americans, they each make up independently about 8 percent of the state’s largest law enforcement department. Now, when we return, we look at work underway to change that.