In 2014, the Ardmore Police Department had every reason in the world to seek guidance on how to purge area gang activity.
Uniform reports show more than 1,400 crimes committed that year, including more than 500 violent crimes reported, including murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated and simple assaults. Deputy Chief Kevin Norris admitted that the city of Ardmore had relatively high crime rates for a city with a population of just over 25,000 people.
Only 782 crimes have been reported for the year thus far, with no murders, seven rapes, five robberies and 40 aggravated assaults.
Norris and Capt. Keith Ingle attribute the success the department has had to special detail officers afforded by money awarded from Oklahoma’s Attorney General office.
The SAFE Oklahoma Grant, which is worth about $65,000, was awarded to the Ardmore Police Department Sept. 1, 2014, after state officials determined a great need in the community for additional help.
The state grant paid for officers to work overtime on a special detail that tracked when and where organized crime was occurring. Experienced officers used tips from citizens and were directed to make their presence known when on the job.
“It was just the mere presence of an officer that would cause the crime to be reduced,” Norris said. “It wasn’t all about the officer getting out of the car, making contact or shaking someone down. It was just the mere presence of them being there.”
Many shifts for special detail officers were comprised of sitting in a suspicious area, just observing and never exiting the car.
“We’d usually have shifts between 7 p.m. into the morning hours, but we would change it up,” Ingle said. “We would have several (suspected gang members) know which officers worked what shift, and would ask, ‘Why are you in uniform right now?’ They knew something was up.”
Data compilation was crucial in reducing numbers, Norris said. According to reports APD sent to the Attorney General’s office, 365 interviews were conducted when officers received tips on where malpractice was taking place.
Seven “knock-and-talks” were conducted throughout the three-year operation, which is police terminology for knocking on a resident’s door without a search warrant, based on word of mouth.
Some of the bigger hotspots where gang activity was observed were in the central northwestern and southeastern sectors, Norris said. As special detail officers gathered information and reported crime, they would push pins into a map in APD’s investigation briefing room. Areas where gang members were commonly found included certain houses, apartment complexes, convenience stores and parks. And as special detail officers made progress, APD sent detailed reports on a quarterly basis to the attorney general.
From receiving the grant to the present day, 62 cases of gang-related activity have been reported, and 82 arrests have been made. Today, sparing sporadic drive-by shootings, reported gang-related activity is considered a non-issue.
“Almost next to nothing as far as reported gang activity goes,” Norris said. “We have had a couple drive bys in the last six to eight months. But compared to 2014, it’s almost zero.”
CPD officials offered APD certain guiding tips: have as many boots on the ground as possible, always deploy special detail officers in pairs and merely make your presence as law enforcement known.
Special detail officers also confiscated 16 illegal guns through the operation, which were either unlicensed, involved in a crime or reported stolen. The removal of unlawful firearms from the streets carried more weight than purging drugs, Norris said.
“In our opinion, getting a gun off the streets is better than getting dope any day. Because you don’t know what life you may have saved,” Norris said. “It may have been a toddler, a grandma, it may have been one of us, it may have been you.”
Eradicating most gang activity has spanned beyond just Ardmore. There’s virtually no reported gang activity in Carter County, according to Carter County Sheriff Chris Bryant.
Yet Ardmore, Carter County and surrounding areas of southern Oklahoma still are perceived to have high numbers of alleged gang activity, drug possession and other organized crime. That paradigm will take time to change, he said, with a focus on community involvement and continued dedication to tackling threats to welfare.
“I wouldn’t necessarily use the word shady to describe the county” Bryant said. “We as a county, and as a whole, have to gain the county’s respect and trust back.”
Money from the SAFE Oklahoma Grant has lasted for the past eight years, and reapplication for the grant stipulates that all money from an existing award be exhausted before being awarded again. Norris said the police department has considered reapplying, but APD likely wouldn’t be awarded a second time.
He thinks that’s a good thing.
“We thought about applying for it again next year, Though we really don’t have the stats for why we would need it. If we were awarded again, it would be for a smaller amount,” Norris said. “I’d say this was successful because the state gave us money to put officers on the street. And it all goes back to the officers who put themselves out there.”