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by Peter Moskos

April 17, 2015

Here's what's up in Oklahoma

This is an email I received from (someone I believe is) an Oklahoma Police officer. He answered my question -- why does Oklahoma lead the nation in people killed by police? -- very well. It's knowledge I don't have, and I can't say it better myself. He agreed to let me reprint it here, anonymously:
To clarify, the reserve academy is 240 hours (nights and weekends), the full time academy is 600 hours (increased to 600 4-5 years ago). Reserves are limited to the number of hours they may work. When I started in ____ the reserve academy was 168 (min hours, most add additional training to it) and I think full time was 320. A few years before that it was less and less.

They have increased training greatly over the last 15-20 years. The main reason it has taken so long to increase the hours and why it isn't as high as the national average is that most departments can't afford to have an officer tied up at the academy for more time. Most have a difficult time making it while they are gone as it is, due to a lack of manpower. The only area where the standards in OK exceed standards is firearms. They made the qualification course easier 3-4 years ago, but it's still difficult. (Before they used to start at 50 yards, now they have eliminated those and added more at 25 yards).

As for the reason for more shootings by officers and other issues in general, there are many things that contribute.

1) OK is a "conservative" state. They continually increase penalties while at the same time cutting budgets, causing less personnel, less continuing education opportunities, increased early release of inmates (I think the last news article I read on our prisons stated at they are only about 60% staffed). In my opinion, the ones on parole are far from adequately supervised. There is also, in my opinion, a lack of mental health services.

2) Pay. No one wants to say it, but low pay contributes to they quality of officers. You get some that do it for the right reasons, then some that never should be officers. It's hard for most agencies to find suitable officers. With the exception of a handful of agencies in the metro areas and the OK Highway Patrol, I would estimate the average salary as 30K. Some smaller agencies in our area start at just above minimum wage. Some small towns have one full time and actually pay one or two reserves (many end up going to the full time academy and becoming full time at some point).

3) Low number of officers per square mile outside of OKC, Tulsa, Norman, and Lawton. There are no agencies outside of the metro areas that I know of they have more than one officer per unit. In many areas, the nearest backup may be 15-20 miles away. (More likely to fight or attack a solo officer.) It's not that these areas are not populated, just not as densely populated. The tax bases do not generate enough to hire additional officers.

4) Meth and prescription drugs, abused everywhere, but sadly more so in OK. Leads to increases crime and violence in general

5) Suicide by cop. This seems to be happening more in OK. A few weeks ago I was involved in a pursuit and shootout with a man who had murdered his brother and told some people he wouldn't be taken alive. As a result of his actions, a state trooper was injured by glass flying into his eye when a bullet from the suspect struck his windshield. The suspect was shot and killed. The same night one of the troopers that came to assist with that stopped a car and the driver pulled a pistol and started shooting at him, causing the trooper to retreat to his car and return fire. The suspect then exited his vehicle and shot himself in the head. The last I heard no one was able to determine why the man did it.

6) Change in our society. I used to think my elders didn't know what they were talking about when they spoke of changes, but I have noticed them myself over my 35 years of life, especially the last 10. With newer generations, ethics and personal responsibility seems to have declined. Children are doing things in school now that we would have never done or even thought about doing. Some (sadly some of my own family) have no respect for themselves or anything else. (I'm not sure if this is everywhere or just in our region.). We also have a high percentage of our population on various forms of welfare and large economically depressed areas (not that this makes someone a criminal).

7) Broken juvenile justice system and some parent that just don't care. In OK, they can do nearly anything without consequences, and they know it. By the time they turn 18 is too late and they continue to be criminals.

8) Drug trafficking and cartels. I-35 , I-40, and I-44. Besides local drug manufactures, large amounts are brought through our state. (Same is true for AZ, NM, and TX).

9) EVERYONE in OK is armed. I personally do not have an issue with it. I purchased my first firearm, a Colt single action .22, from an elderly neighbor when I was 9 years old. I have collected and enjoyed shooting ever since, both competitively and recreational. In OK, I would estimate that over 50% of the population have weapons and many hunt. It is legal for citizens to own suppressors, machine guns, and short barreled rifles (with appropriate paperwork and ATF tax stamp). The vast majority of gun owners are very responsible, however, with increased gun ownership, there is naturally going to be increased issues involving firearms. Same is true with alcohol (our state had a huge problem with DUI), fattening foods, and smoking.

All of this sounds bad, but Oklahoma is actually a good state to live in, it just had some issues like anywhere else.


Unknown said...

Seems like a lot of the factors listed are by no means unique to Oklahoma. I don't think you can answer the question "why" something is happening until you first have a good handle on exactly "what" is happening. The first step in understanding why police kill so many people in the USA is to collect comprehensive data on what happened in all of these killings. I wouldn't be surprised if something like much larger percentages of police killings in states with high rates are of mentally ill persons as compared to states with lower rates of police killings as speculated by the OK officer. But, you really can't rely on anecdotal evidence to conclude that.

Andy D said...

While I see this person's point, We haven't examined killings by cops outside of major metro areas and he or she seems to be talking about life OUTSIDE those areas (yes, I know the OK state number is high overall too but the point stands.)

His or her argument doesn't explain Oklahoma City being 1.7 per 100,000. What are the ratios of cops to populations in these cities? This chart shows them: http://www.governing.com/gov-data/safety-justice/law-enforcement-police-department-employee-totals-for-cities.html
I notice that Bakersfield is a very low number (10.5 per 10k population) where chicago, NYC and Baltimore are in the 40s per 10k population. don't you think that maybe having a boatload of backup means you don't have to shoot as much? (LA is in the 25 per 10k range) just a thought. maybe the writer has a point. Low police to population ratios means more solo officers on high risk calls which means more shootings?

Moskos said...

I knew that there aren't as many police per person out west, but I did not know the differences were *that* great. I thought we were talking about a factor of two. But assuming your numbers are correct, that is a factor of four. That's huge.

Certainly solo cops when backup isn't near (so more in rural areas, but also in cities) are more likely to get into messes that escalate to lethal force.

David Woycechowsky said...

As an avid reader of Fourth Amendment based civil cases against
police officers the two states that are consistently the most favorable to police conduct are TN and OK. FL, NM, and LA have a lot of decisions that favor police in what seems like questionable cases, but those states are more of a mixed bag, with some sprinkling of decisions that do take police to task.

BOTTOM LINE: if you are a policeman sued in federal court (and there are not racial overtones in your case), then you probably want to be in OK or TN.

cap vandal said...

Oklahoma City has 1,000 people per square mile.

Other cities:

Detroit 5,142
San Jose 5,359
Milwaukee 6,190
Seattle 7,255
Baltimore ** 7,685
Los Angeles 8,092
Philadelphia 11,380
Chicago 11,870
New York City 27,016

What does this mean? I don't know. But with this much variation, people per square mile and officers per person must be related. Or not.

Population/Area from Wikipedia.

Andy D said...

Point well taken about population density. It looks like Bakersfield is in the 2400 ppl/sq mi range. Salinas is in the 6000 range. At first that made me doubt that population density made any difference but then when you consider that the only Borough in NYC with less than 10,000 people per square mile is Staten Island and that most are over 30,000, you see that 30 more cops per person plus 30,000 more people per square mile gives you a LOT more cops per square mile which means a LOT more available backup.

Moskos said...

Keep in mind you get two factors out west: fewer cops per capita *and* less population density.

One or the other may matter, or they may matter when taken together.

cap vandal said...

None of this is going to be easy to explain.

Oklahoma City is an outlier because they incorporated everything in site and ended up with 600 square miles. That makes me think that city boundaries not created based on a consistent basis. In Chicago, if you throw in a couple of hundred square miles of Lake County, you would get a different result. There are enough

A hypothesis is that cars might be a cause. Skimming the New York killings, most of the really bad guys are run down on foot. A car has many more places to keep a gun out of sight, among other things.

Dealing with a bad guy in a car is simply more dangerous for a cop. Also car chases are just bad for everyone. Bystanders get hit. And I think the police have time (and reason) to get their adrenaline up. I think with a foot chase in real life, it will be over quickly one way or the other -- the guy gets grabbed or escapes.

In the suburbs, there aren't that many interactions with strangers that don't involve driving. In a sparsely populated area, everyone has a car. In cities, the poor don't have cars.

This is more related to density and death rates then police per person. Consider this a guess.

Andy D said...

This whole thing has been bothering me, and I'm awful at math. But here is what I come up with. Peter, you said you were surprised at the approximately 4 TIMES difference in cops per population East Coast vs West. Then we talked about population density. Here is what I come up with. NYC with approx 45 cops/10K population and an average of 35K people per square mile has in the area of 150 cops PER SQUARE MILE. Bakersfield, with just over 10 cops per 10K population and 2500 people per square mile has 2.5 cops per square mile. That means that there are SIXTY TIMES as many cops per square mile in NYC on average than in Bakersfield. THere are only FOURTEEN times as many people per square mile in NYC vs Bakersfield, but SIXTY times as many cops per square mile. Somebody check my math and tell me this doesn't seem likely to have a huge bearing on the shooting numbers.

Moskos said...

I'll try and check the math.

But one other thing, kind of a tangent, but wouldn't those same factors (like being a car) affect the general murder rate as well. And yet it doesn't seem to. At least not historically.

Moskos said...

I looked at 6 cities: OK City, LA, Chicago, New York, Bakersfield, and Baltimore.

I also very arbitrary added 300 cops to Bakersfield, because I think Kern County Sheriff also patrols the city (they killed half the people listed as killed in Bakersfield). That puts Bakersfield up to 655 cops. (B-field has 355 cops and Kern Co. 567). Probably something similar should be done for OK City.

So I ran correlations on number of cops, city population, city size (sq miles) and number of people killed over the past 23 months. There's no correlation on anything except (of course) except city size and number of cops.

This is a very small and non-random sample, mind you, so who knows? LA is kind of outlier, with few cops per mile and not so many police-involved killings. But that would lead me to think the department is more important than the density.

Still, nothing really jumps out. Maybe if I looked at more cities... but given this I don't think I will.

All that said... yes, your math seems right. There is 1.7 cop/sq mile in OK City (not counting sheriff's dept), 19.6 in LA, 51 in Chicago, 75 in NYC, 4.5 in Bakersfield, 34 in Balto.

Cops (times 1000) per population is 1.7 in OK City, 2.5 in LA, 4.4 in Chicago, 4.2 in New York, 1.8 in Bakersfield, 5.0 in Baltimore.

Here (in what will be a cut and paste formatting mess) are the raw numbers:
#cops geo size pop po-in-kill
OK City 1,029 621 611,000 20
LA 9,843 503 3,884,000 38
Chicago 11,944 234 2,719,000 34
New York 35,000 469 8,406,000 21
Bakersfield 655 144 364,000 15
Balto 3,100 92 622,000 13