Bill Citty - Law Enforcement Under Fire
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Show 1713: Bill Citty - Law Enforcement Under Fire
Air Date: March 26, 2017
Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” I’m Rob McClendon. Well, every single day, police officers risk their own safety to protect ours. But in the court of public opinion, law enforcement is increasingly on trial, leaving many of those in blue feeling black and blue from all the scrutiny. Today, our focus is on the challenges of 21st century policing, and no one probably knows it better than our first guest.
Rob McClendon: Oklahoma City’s police department is our state’s largest and oldest law enforcement agency with close to 1,200 sworn officers whose jobs can be both rewarding and challenging all within the same day. It’s not for everyone, but for those who do wear the shield, it’s an opportunity to serve their community in situations most would run from. Since 2003, Bill Citty has served as Oklahoma City’s police chief.
Bill Citty: When the city manager was gracious enough to offer me this job, he said, I can remember it like it was yesterday, he said, “You can do 15 years, right?” And I said, I laughed, I said, “There’s no way. Five to seven.”
Rob: And that was 13 years ago. In the ensuing time, police departments like Oklahoma City have faced a growing number of challenges, domestic terrorism, racial strikes and mass shootings. Yet for officers like Chief Citty, it’s a job he can’t imagine not doing.
Citty: It’s a great profession. It’s a lot of fun, it really is. It’s one of those, those professions that you don’t, you don’t have to compromise, you know, your beliefs and those types of things. You’re working for the community. You’re doing good for the community. You’re helping people, saving lives. It’s a good career, and it’s been good to me.
Rob: I sat down with Chief Citty in the newly opened downtown headquarters to talk about law enforcement for the 21st century.
Rob: You know, every day your officers face challenges that police officers have faced for decades, but you know, it’s a hard job but one that seemingly is only getting harder because of mass shootings, domestic terror and even some of the racial tensions. How has policing changed in the time that you’ve worn the badge?
Citty: Probably the largest change is the obvious one and that’s technology. The scrutiny of officers has changed quite a bit since I first came on. There’s a lot more accountability within the profession. I think that’s all for the better. The moods or the ideals or the values of a community change. I mean, over a 30-year period, some of those things change. So as a result of that, laws change – requirements that officers have to adhere to. We’ve changed policies and procedures as far as use of force, those types of things. How we use force has changed dramatically. That’s probably one of the most high-risk areas to a police department is the use of force, which is one of those things that we have to do. We have to use force at times. So, but the scrutiny of those types of things, and especially right now, that you see going on across the country, is extremely high, and we’re just, uh, hopefully it’ll make us better. But other than that, the technology, the technology that we have to fight crime, the technology that the people we’re trying to catch, they’re using the technology as well, so, you know, we have to keep up with the technology to be able to analyze those types of things – forensically examine cell phones, iPads. I mean, the criminals keep a lot of stuff on their phones, their smartphones – photographs, those types of things -- which is evidence. So we have to be able to have the technology and training to be able to take advantage of that.
Rob: Talk to me about the psychology of an officer who knows that at any given moment when he’s out, life can change just like that.
Citty: Well, it’s, you know, it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the street but I can tell you that officers who are on the street are constantly going through scenarios themselves – what ifs. You have to be to prepare yourself because there’s so much that you don’t deal with on a regular basis, but can happen at a moment’s notice. Your life could be threatened. Somebody else’s life could be threatened. It’s a, you know, a profession if you’re on the street and you’re taking calls for service, and in many cases, you know, somebody’s life may be at stake, it’s a roller coaster ride of emotions. I mean, your stress level is up and down. The adrenaline is up and down constantly if you’re in that police car. At the same time, you have to be able to control that and you have to be able to control it to the extent that you don’t drive too fast to a call because that’s just as dangerous in many cases as pulling that firearm out. So officers really have to be able to try to maintain control over their emotions as much as possible. But, you know, they make split-second decisions. And I can tell you the training is very, very important and that officer going through different scenarios as to what he will do if this and this and this would happen. You have to be prepared, and you have to be trained, and we try to do as much training as we can. Again, you can’t train for a real-life scenario. But hopefully their reactions are, you know, they’ve learned a lot through that training, and their reactions are appropriate.
Rob: You mentioned the use of force. In comparison with other developed nations, American law enforcement is lethal. I mean, shoot dead more people than there are days in the year every year. The flip side of that, 50,000 officers are assaulted every year, 50 are killed in the line of duty. Do you contribute that to the amount of guns in our country?
Citty: I think you have to almost, because you look at some of the differences, and one of the major differences is the availability of firearms in this country. I think the big difference, you have to look at it, I mean, the big difference in the deaths as results of firearms or deaths at all compared to other countries is the availability of firearms in this country.
Rob: Do you feel different about conceal carry versus open carry?
Citty: I really do. The only reason I feel differently about is that if somebody carries it openly, people around them don’t know who that person is. They don’t know what state of mind that person is. They don’t know what state of intoxication that person may be in. So it makes people afraid. Just having the open carry makes people afraid. I don’t think that’s the way our society should be. Concealed carry, you know, I haven’t been against that but you have to be somewhat concerned because a lot of the checks and balances aren’t there to make sure that the right person is allowed to carry that firearm. I mean, they go through a process, but it’s not a very, very strong vetted process. You really can’t train somebody when and how to use that firearm. I mean, we go through extensive training with police officers, and in many cases, you know, we still don’t react perfectly in those types of situations. So, I think, you know, in some ways it puts a lot of people at risk. Overall, I’m not, I don’t oppose the concealed. I really don’t see a reason for the open carry at all. If I was a bad person out here, I’d want to know who was carrying the firearm, I’d love open carry. So, and I just don’t think, I just don’t think that that’s a good practice nor a really a good environment for a community like ours.
Rob: Now, a little later in our show, we will look at just some of what it takes to go into law enforcement, and we’ll meet some young people putting their heart and soul into it. But when we return, I ask the chief about the role community policing plays in dispelling the growing racial tension around the country.