Break­ing bar­ri­ers

Tulsa World - - Metro&region - By Kyle Hinchey

About a hun­dred lo­cal stu­dent lead­ers gath­ered in a room packed with po­lice of­fi­cers who wanted to show them the hu­man side of law en­force­ment.

The Tulsa Po­lice Depart­ment col­lab­o­rated with Tulsa Pub­lic Schools to host the 10th an­nual Mayor's Po­lice and Com­mu­nity Coali­tion Youth Fo­rum on Fri­day. The stu­dents, who came from high schools through­out the city, lis­tened to pre­sen­ta­tions rang­ing from how to avoid gang vi­o­lence and what to do dur­ing a traf­fic stop.

But more im­por­tantly, TPS Chief of Po­lice Matthias Wicks said the teens had the op­por­tu­nity to sit down with of­fi­cers and ask them what­ever they wanted.

The tougher the ques­tion, the bet­ter.

“I know as young peo­ple, they might have ques­tions they're too afraid to ask for fear of be­ing judged,” Wicks said. “The truth is, ask that ques­tion be­cause that an­swer might re­ally help some­body.”

One of the pri­mary goals of the fo­rum is to build re­la­tion­ships and trust be­tween po­lice and stu­dents that re­sult in safer in­ter­ac­tions

and a shared un­der­stand­ing of one an­other.

Dur­ing his 26 years in law en­force­ment, Wicks said he has seen the chal­lenges that hap­pen when youths lack trust and re­spect for po­lice. That's why he be­lieves it's im­por­tant for of­fi­cers to en­gage with stu­dents and tear down the bar­rier be­tween them.

“Not only are po­lice of­fi­cers hu­man be­ings, but we're all hu­man be­ings,” he said. “It's not us against them or them against us. We want to make sure that this pro­gram here al­lows young peo­ple to un­der­stand we need them. They're very in­tel­li­gent, in­cred­i­bly pas­sion­ate, and as adults, we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to lis­ten.”

Tulsa Po­lice Chief Chuck Jor­dan said he's a firm be­liever that in­for­mal per­sonal re­la­tion­ships es­tab­lished in events like the youth fo­rum are far more last­ing than what can be ac­com­plished at a town hall or for­mal ed­u­ca­tion set­ting.

Not only do the teenagers ben­e­fit by ask­ing ques­tions, but also the of­fi­cers get to learn about the con­cerns and is­sues fac­ing high-school­ers.

There are many rea­sons why stu­dents mis­trust of­fi­cers, Jor­dan said. Some learn it from their par­ents who had bad ex­pe­ri­ences with po­lice. Oth­ers grow up in neigh­bor­hoods that have long had tense re­la­tion­ships with law en­force­ment.

“A lot of it's amaz­ingly easy to over­come once they get in a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with some­body, talk to them and see them as hu­man be­ings,” he said. “The kids here to­day, they're go­ing to be lead­ing our com­mu­nity some day. This is a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity for us to start mend­ing fences and mak­ing some in­roads in build­ing trust.”

The Rev. Sharyn Cosby, pas­tor of In the Spirit Chris­tian Church, talked to the stu­dents about ef­forts by law en­force­ment to elim­i­nate ra­cial pro­fil­ing and dis­par­ity af­fect­ing youths.

Cosby from the Ok­la­homa Bureau of Ju­ve­nile Af­fairs from a few years ago show­ing that for ev­ery one white child ar­rested, there were seven black chil­dren ar­rested. The most cur­rent data shows that num­ber has de­creased from seven to about four.

Al­though the num­bers still are dis­pro­por­tion­ate, Cosby said she's grate­ful they aren't what they used to be. She cred­ited Mayor G.T. Bynum and Jor­dan for striv­ing to make chil­dren feel safer.

A large con­tri­bu­tion was the im­ple­men­ta­tion of TPD train­ing cour­ses that teach cadets how to ef­fec­tively in­ter­act with youths.

“I am very proud of my po­lice of­fi­cers,” Cosby said. “They have made some great strides in mak­ing th­ese num­bers come down. Are we there yet? No. But we have come a long way, and I'm ex­cited about that.”

JOHN CLAN­TON/Tulsa World

Booker T. Wash­ing­ton High School stu­dents Michael McHenry (right) and Tony Smith (cen­ter) lis­ten to a pre­sen­ta­tion while seated near Tulsa Po­lice Of­fi­cer Cindy Mur­phy (left) dur­ing the MPACC Youth Fo­rum on Fri­day.

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