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Tulsa officials work to improve relations between officers, community

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Posted at 9:49 PM, Jul 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-26 05:19:52-04

TULSA -- You can hear it and you can see it, even from a distance. This park tells it's own story, beginning with one simple word, hope.

"Issues of racial disparity are things that in Tulsa, are one that people didn't talk about for a long time," said Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum.

That pain is in writing on plaques, in a circle around a statue.

"Things that we clearly haven't succeeded in resolving," Bynum said.

In 1921, a white mob attacked homeowners and businesses in the Greenwood community. It's considered the worst civic disturbance in American history.

It's now 2017, and the mayor said he recognizes there's a racial divide.

"When a kid that is born in one part of our city is expected to live 11 years less than a kid who is born in a different part of the city, that's a clear problem," Bynum said.

Bynum said the city is on track to improve it.

"We put together a coalition or a commission on community policing that came out with 77 different, really clear recommendations and things that we need to do here in Tulsa," Bynum said. "And now we're working with the police department to implement all of those by the end of this calendar year."

The city will start by improving relations between the community and police officers in all parts of the city.

Police Chief Chuck Jordan agrees with Bynum.

"A lot of it is about trust," Jordan said.

The Tulsa Police Department will be equipping officers with 450 new body cameras.

"I think it's good for documentation about what happens," Jordan said.

The department is also hiring more than 900 officers.

"We're at the same level now as in 1988," Jordan said. "You think about that, I mean our population is 40,000 more, we have homeland security tasks we didn't have then because of 9/11 and terror issues. We have gang problems that we didn't have at that level, so things have changed and we're expected to do things and do more, things we didn't do back then."

The department made headlines when former Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby shot and killed Terence Crutcher in September.

Shelby was charged with manslaughter, but acquitted in May after a jury trial.

Tense moments followed, but not the violence seen in cities like Ferguson, Missouri.

"When the killings started, that's really what heated up the tension," said Rev. Mareo Johnson, a Black Lives Matter advocate.

Johnson said the Shelby verdict left some questioning the system.

"People feel like justice let them down," Johnson said.

"We know we've had failings, we understand that," Jordan said.

Weeks later, one TPD officer and two Tulsa County Sheriff deputies shot and killed Joshua Barre in north Tulsa.
Police said Barre was headed into a convenience store, armed with knives.

"As a community we knew he wasn't going to hurt anyone," Johnson said. "I believe that if it was a majority of African American officers, that with the Joshua Barre incident, he might not have been shot."

Johnson believes part of the solution is a bigger presence of African American police officers in north Tulsa.

"When you're faced with a different culture of people, mannerisms might be different and the way they do things might be different and it could be taken the wrong way," Johnson said.

As he reads scripture, inside a small church with his bible in hand, he prays for a better future to heal the wounds that scarred so many throughout the city of Tulsa.

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