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String of brutal crimes makes public safety a top political issue in Tulsa
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String of brutal crimes makes public safety a top political issue in Tulsa

String of brutal crimes makes public safety a top political issue in Tulsa
Photo Credit: Russell Mills

String of brutal crimes makes public safety a top political issue in Tulsa

After a string of high-profile, bloody crimes which have thrown a harsh national spotlight on Tulsa, the issues of crime and public safety have become top of mind for many, including the only two people so far who've officially announced their candidacy for mayor.

After five people were shot, three fatally, in north Tulsa on Good Friday last year, the current mayor, Dewey Bartlett, formed a task force to study the issue of public safety.

The findings were somewhat alarming, according to Bill Christiansen, a former city councilor who hopes to replace Bartlett as mayor and the first person to declare his candidacy.

For example, it found that a CQ Study ranked Tulsa 378 out of 400 cities surveyed in terms of public safety, including property crimes.

A Men's Health list of "Safest Cities for Children" ranked Tulsa 96 out of 100 cities.

It notes that in 2002, Tulsa's 911 center had 130 positions. It now has 98, and says while there's been some improvement in the last several months since it became an independent entity, the city's emergency call system still has some major problems, including long hold times, calls dropped or not answered, and a huge volume of non-emergency calls.

It found that Tulsa's below the national average of 2.5 officers per 1,000 population, and needs another 50 positions authorized just to meet that standard.

The fire department is even more understaffed, the study found, with 676 positions currently, and 824 needed to meet national standards.

It advised "immediate attention" to four key recommendations:

1. Improve 911 Public Safety Communications
2. Improve Coordination of Community Based Prevention and Safety Intervention
Programs
3. Improve Public Perception of Tulsa Safety
4. Increase Funding for Public Safety Infrastructure

Christiansen tells KRMG Mayor Bartlett has "turned his back" on the findings of the Public Safety Task Force.

"For the mayor to totally turn his back on these task force recommendations is just not a good thing for the citizens of Tulsa," he said.

For example, "police officers work a lot of overtime, and there's a lot of people that are very frustrated with the 911 call center, and also with the lack of being able to get a response from police because they are so busy."

"Our record in public safety is very good, and very forward-thinking, but also very inclusive," Bartlett responded. "It's very important that we have decisions that are made in the atmosphere of looking at the whole issue, and not just evaluating small sections."

Former Mayor Kathy Taylor became the second person to announce her mayoral campaign Wednesday.

Asked what she felt the top issues of her candidacy would be, she didn't hesitate. "The first issue is crime," she told KRMG.

"Crime is a community issue, and it requires a community solution," she added, noting that 25 percent of crimes committed early in her administration involved juvenile suspects, so she worked with Family and Children's Services and the U.S. Attorney to open a community intervention center, so "as youth got involved very early in minor offenses, we were able to intervene and provide some guidance, some positive guidance, in their lives."

Christiansen says Bartlett is ignoring the recommendations of the Public Safety Task Force he himself formed, especially regarding the hiring of more police officers and 911 operators.

Taylor says public safety's about more than just the number of police officers on the streets, but points out that she did a lot to keep the number of officers up during the recession.

In any case, it seems clear that crime and public safety will be a top concern for all the candidates who want to be Tulsa's chief executive for the next term.

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