OKC council candidates oppose cuts to police funding
A USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll published Friday shows Americans, by an 18-point margin, say it is more important to ensure law and order than to protect the right to protest.
Results reflect a change in attitudes from last June, amid demonstrations over the death in police custody of George Floyd, when Americans were more evenly split on the question.
The poll spotlights issues central to the Oklahoma City police union and its decision whether to back any candidates in the Ward 1 and Ward 3 city council runoffs on April 6.
Last Monday, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 123 sponsored a candidate forum at the lodge on S Agnew Avenue with Ward 1 candidates Bradley Carter and Shay Varnell and Ward 3 candidates Jessica Martinez-Brooks and Barbara Young.
All four are unfriendly toward the idea of reducing police funding. Varnell, Martinez-Brooks and Young expressed support for restoring last year's budget cuts in response to questions from The Oklahoman.
At the FOP forum, Lodge 123 Vice President Mark Nelson asked whether the candidates believed police "should stand down and allow individuals to destroy property and/or harm others during protests."
The FOP forum came on the heels of release by the police department of a review of its response to a weekend of demonstrations, marches and confrontations last May 30 and 31.
Reviewers documented 50 instances of use-of-force against individuals in the crowds, determining all were justified.
While most of that weekend's events were peaceful, officers protecting police headquarters encountered late-night bottle- and rock-throwing and responded with tear gas and bean-bag shotgun rounds.
Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon found the review to be self-serving and said so at Tuesday's council meeting.
"I'm really frustrated by the framing throughout the presentation," she said.
She particularly criticized the characterization of police response to a small crowd that occupied the intersection of NW 23 and Classen early in the evening on May 30, a Saturday, well before dark.
Police said officers tried to de-escalate tensions. Hamon said she watched one video of a squad car arriving and said officers "have their hands on people within 30 seconds."
"To me it's a little disingenuous to say there were real efforts to de-escalate," she said.
The crowd grew, eventually setting off on a four-mile march that ended outside police headquarters downtown, where confrontations continued until 3 a.m.
Businesses in the area were vandalized, fires were set and windows were broken.
Hamon said the review lacked "analysis or introspection" on what police could have done differently "that might have set the tone for that evening, that could potentially have changed that whole night."
Many people seeing the presentation conclude internal police reform initiatives and discussions in the mayor's Law Enforcement Policy Task Force are going nowhere, she said.
Convention center tours
Free self-guided tours of the new MAPS 3 convention center are being offered Saturday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Plan to wear a mask. Register for tours at okccctour.register110.com. Tours will take about 20 minutes. Stops include the 201,000-square-foot exhibit hall, the upper-level Painted Sky ballroom, and the balcony overlooking Scissortail Park.
The city council will meet virtually at 8:30 a.m. March 16. Find the agenda and instructions for dialing in under the "Government" tab at okc.gov.
• An invitation-only dedication ceremony for the new downtown convention center is 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday.
The mayor and all eight city council members attended last week’s virtual meeting.
• The council extended the city's mask mandate through April 30. With a mask ordinance extension, a predictive model indicates Oklahoma County could reach COVID-19 herd immunity in June, a public health officer said.
Staff writer William Crum. Email email@example.com. Twitter:@williamcrum. For civic news and more, subscribe at oklahoman.com.