TPD promotional buyouts under review by Mayor, department says they are done privately by officers

Posted at 11:28 PM, Mar 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-08 17:29:05-04

Mayor Dewey Bartlett is investigating promotion practices at the Tulsa Police Department.

This follows concerns about the ethics of officers paying supervisors to retire early so they can step into the position.

It’s a decades long practice, carried out in private. It's not official and not illegal, but it’s under the microscope, as the city reviews the practice.

To be promoted, every Tulsa police officer must take a test determining who's next to move up following a retirement.
“It’s very rigorous, it’s a very tough process,” Tulsa FOP President Clay Ballenger said.
Ballenger says test scores eventually expire and to remain on the list, you have to re-take the test.   

Some retirements come close to the expiration date, so some officers at the top of the list offer buyouts to the retirees to speed up the process in hopes of avoiding another test.

Sometimes officer pay thousands to procure a private buyout.

“We don’t get involved in that, it is completely outside their job duties and official duty as police officers,” Ballenger said.

Tulsa firefighters did the same thing back in the 1970s, but union leaders ended the practice.

“Just because things are legal, doesn’t make it right,” Marq Lewis said.

Lewis is with We the People Oklahoma. He want the buyouts to stop, though, it doesn’t violate any laws.

Lewis drew attention to sheriff’s candidate, Vic Regalado, who benefited from the practice to become sergeant.

“We have gotten to a point where we are cleaning up our sheriff’s department and we don’t need a candidate or any person going into the sheriff’s office with this sort of baggage,” Lewis explained.

Regalado, defended the practice in a statement.

"We are talking about a decades-old practice that has been vetted through legal channels multiple times. To say that anyone on the police force has 'bought' their rank is pure fiction. Every officer awarded a promotion earned their rank through hard work, service and testing at the top of their class. I won't stay silent as the media and anti-police activists attempt to tear down hard working police officers who serve us with honor and pride."

Ballenger believes the most qualified candidate is always picked.

“It doesn’t change who was up for promotion, it doesn’t change the person who’s up for that spot, who’s the most qualified, it doesn’t change that at all.”

Both the TPD and the FOP say they have nothing to do with this private practice, but they are cooperating with the mayor's investigation.