While the city admits no wrongdoing and it might increase tensions within the police department, Tulsa, Okla., officials and a group of Black officers agreed Dec. 3 to settle a race discrimination lawsuit against the Tulsa Police Dept.
The Black Officers Coalition (BOC) filed the lawsuit in 1994, alleging that Blacks face a segregated work environment, are discriminated against in hiring and promotions, get no help when calling for backup and face retaliation if they complain of discrimination.
“This is a long time coming,” said Capt. Walter Busby, president of the coalition. “We finally got where we wanted to be. It signifies the beginning of something big.”
Under the settlement that will cost an estimated $6 million to implement, racial profiling by officers would be banned and police hiring and promotions would be based on merit. The city would also collect data on officers and their policing activities so an independent auditor can monitor compliance.
But the Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) denounced the agreement, saying they unlawfully were excluded from the settlement and that the problems that existed with the original decree remain in the new proposal.
“The simple fact is that we have always believed the original complaint did not have merit. We still believe that. If we could ever get a fair and just hearing, it would be evident that the complaints had no merit. Nobody is pursuing the truth except the FOP,” said Sergeant Van Ellis, a FOP representative, in a report in Tulsa Today newspaper.
The settlement requires new policy, report forms, and data collection that has not been negotiated by the FOP in its Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), Sgt. Ellis said. “We are the sole negotiating agent for the employees of the police department,” he said.
Sgt. Ellis said the CBA is a legislated set of rules that pertain to police officers and firefighters that articulates how, and by whom, employment issues are to be handled.
Attorney Louis Bullock, representing the BOC, said the FOP should “lay down their spears” because the language in the settlement was “better” than the original consent decree. U.S. District Judge Sven Holmes vacated that decree after Mayor LaFortune told the judge that he could not support the decree signed by former Ms. Savage on her last day in office.
Sgt. Ellis said that the FOP is worried that the language in the settlement may contain “loopholes” and said, if the settlement were to be made an order, there could be problems when the CBA and the settlement conflict.