Failed police oversight legislation to reappear in 2021 Oklahoma legislative session

Sierra Rains
The Daily Ardmoreite

Protestors and advocates have marched throughout the nation calling for re-evaluation of federal, state and local policing standards since the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis more than a month ago. 

In Oklahoma, a local use of force case gained national attention when two officers from the Wilson Police Department were arrested and charged for second degree murder in relation to the death of Jared Lakey after he was allegedly tased more than 50 times. 

Months before Floyd’s death and the protests that erupted throughout the nation, Oklahoma lawmakers had the opportunity to take up a set of bills that addressed some of the issues being brought to light. 

House Bill 3159 would modify the elements that justify the use of deadly force and provide guidelines for officers when attempting to make an arrest; House Bill 3515 would require the use of body-worn recording equipment under a broader set of circumstances; and House Bill 2946 would create the Oklahoma Community Policing Standards Task Force. 

HB 3515 — the only bill to receive a floor vote — failed to pass by a vote of 1-12 and the other bills were halted due to the shortened legislative session, which ended in May. 

“We all realized that that was something that needed to be looked at then and then of course, COVID came along and shut everything down,” said Rep. Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore, regarding HB 2946. Townley said the Legislature initially looked at the bill in March. 

“By the time we came back, all we were concerned about was getting a budget passed and getting out,” Townley said. “There was nothing except budget matters that got picked up again. No one got anything passed at that point.” 

Townley said the legislation will have to be reintroduced during next year's session in February 2021, adding that HB 2946, authored by Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, in particular caught her attention. 

“It will have to be reintroduced and I’m assuming that’s what he will do because it’s good legislation,” Townley said. During a press conference on June 10, Nichols announced that he would be introducing three measures next session pertaining to police use of deadly force. 

One of the bills will include the failed legislation from this year’s session, to establish a state task force to review and recommend community police standards in Oklahoma regarding use of deadly force in law enforcement. 

The nine member task force would include members and appointments from the Office of the Governor, Oklahoma House of Representatives, Oklahoma State Senate, Office of the Attorney General and the District Attorney’s Council. 

In addition, Nichols plans to introduce legislation requiring independent investigations of excessive force cases and creating a state database that would allow law enforcement agencies to learn of any previous resignations during internal investigations prior to being fired for cause. 

In a press release announcing the initiative, called “The March for Reforms,” Nichols stated that he will be conducting an interim study on policing practices in Oklahoma communities and wants to turn the energy from the protests following Floyd’s death into something productive at the Capitol. 

“My father was a police officer, my uncle is a current police officer, this package is not an attack on law enforcement,” Nichols said. “I hope that these reforms will instead serve as a check on the profession, just like we have checks and balances at the capitol. These are critical steps that I believe will enhance officer and citizen safety. As we move through the interim, my goal is to spend time with law enforcement and citizens to work on these reforms. There is no reason the community and law enforcement can’t come together to get this done.” 

Townley said she would not be surprised if more legislation pertaining to policing practices in Oklahoma showed up in the next legislative session. 

“I think Oklahoma knows that we’ve got to start looking at certain standards of doing things,” Townley said. “Making things that are fair and uniform across the board. That’s what this committee is for and I applaud Representative Nichols for taking the initiative to put this together.”