Wendell Franklin Retires As Tulsa’s Police Chief

COMMUNITY Kimberly Marsh Chief Wendell Franklin, Tulsa Police Department. Photo Tulsa Police Department, Twitter Tulsa’s first Black police chief will retire July 31 and assume a new position leading security for the BOK Financial Corp.   Chief Wendell Franklin was hired as the City of Tulsa’s 40th police chief on Feb. 1, 2020, just before the… The post Wendell Franklin Retires As Tulsa’s Police Chief appeared first on The Oklahoma Eagle.

Wendell Franklin Retires As Tulsa’s Police Chief

COMMUNITY


Tulsa’s first Black police chief will retire July 31 and assume a new position leading security for the BOK Financial Corp.  

Chief Wendell Franklin was hired as the City of Tulsa’s 40th police chief on Feb. 1, 2020, just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Early in Franklin’s career, he was called upon to create secure spaces for a series of high-profile events significant in the Black community, including the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter rallies, Black Panther marches, and the 2021 centennial anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. He also led the department during the historic 1921 Graves Investigation launched to find answers regarding the massacre and subsequent excavations at Oaklawn Cemetery.   

Franklin faced what has been described as unprecedented challenges, including two visits by U.S Presidents. His leadership of the department occurred during a national “defund the police” movement that was activated during the protests against the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 – just three months into his position. 

In the City of Tulsa Police Department’s published 2022 Annual Report, Franklin listed other challenges he encountered, including the loss of and injury to police officers in the line of duty, the civil unrest, heated elections, a ransomware attack on the City’s software, fatal shootings at St. Francis Medical Center, and a severe storm that brought Tulsa to a near standstill in June 2023.  

Franklin said these events “made us stronger but also made many reevaluate life’s priorities.” His reevaluation led to his retirement from his $200,466 salaried position with TPD to take a position as the new director of corporate security for BOK Financial on Sept. 1. 

In a statement published online, Franklin noted that his term culminates four years of following the author Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” In particular, he cited a passage called “Begin with the end in mind,” which refers to building a legacy. Franklin said this kept him focused on the foundation for a plan he provided to Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum when he was selected. The position is a civil service role, and a specific process is followed in the department for promotions and successors to the chief position. A mayor’s spokesperson said it will be shared with the public when that process is finalized.  

At the time that Bynum announced Franklin’s promotion to Chief, he said, “Wendell has a clear vision for the future of the Tulsa Police Department, he is an effective team builder with high standards, and he knows personally the realities of community policing in all parts of our city. He is passionate about innovation, and his selfless management style reflects the ideal that my administration seeks to instill in the culture of the city government.”  

In a statement about the retirement, Bynum said, “I’m profoundly grateful for Wendell Franklin’s service as Tulsa’s Chief of Police. Chief Franklin led the Tulsa Police Department through some of the most challenging times in our city’s history and left the department better than he found it. I wish him nothing but the best in this next career phase.” 

Despite the challenges, Franklin said he and Mayor Bynum accomplished most of what they sought to achieve. Calls to the communications spokesperson about Franklin’s plan, which he reviewed with the mayor before his retirement, were not returned.  

One item in that plan is likely the pursuit of the use of funds authorized by Bynum and the City Council to establish a Real Time Information Center (RTIC) to leverage current and future technologies to improve responses to calls for service and provide additional awareness and investigative support to officers and detectives. 

Franklin also thanked employees in the police department and across the City of Tulsa who immediately stepped up to help with new initiatives during his tenure.  

The Challenges in Retrospect 

Franklin’s retirement comes on the heels of the release of the 2023 City of Tulsa Equality Indicators Report. Among the six themes measured in the report, the Justice theme received the lowest score, falling nearly 5 points to 33.56 from 38.44 in 2018. This theme explores disparities in arrests, law enforcement workforce, officer use of force, and violence. The data was gathered to examine trends and patterns that may identify root causes of equality disparities and assist the City of Tulsa in developing strategies to reduce them. Read The Oklahoma Eagle’s article on the most recent report here at www.theokeagle.com. A reader can access the complete reports at cityoftulsa.org/equality-indicators/ 

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Source: 2023 City of Tulsa Equality Indicators Report 

In the 2022 annual report, Franklin also acknowledged that recruitment and retention of police officers became a significant challenge due to a strong economy combined with negative perceptions of law enforcement and increased scrutiny from the public in the wake of national conversations about policing and social justice.  

Those factors contributed to historically low numbers of qualified applicants. 

Franklin also listed several accomplishments, including the reduction in crime and the leveraging of new crime-fighting technology, including the Real Time Information Center.  

In a news report in Tulsa People magazine published March 29, 2024, Franklin outlined even more challenges for the department, including a highly unfavorable 

Fraternal Order of Police survey, the McGirt ruling that criminal cases involving tribal members on tribal lands should not be tried in a state court, and the biggest, dangerous issue of street drugs, primarily fentanyl.  

In May 2022, the Police Department came under fire for the way it handled the investigation of the arrest of a 70-year-old woman experiencing a mental health crisis while locked in the restroom of a local shop. The three responding officers and the City of Tulsa were sued for their handling of the Oct. 21, 2021, arrest, then once released, the body cam footage spurred public outrage over the incident. The department then investigated its officers nearly six months after the arrest. An Oklahoma Watch report said it found that the department violated its policy by keeping the results of that investigation secret. Oklahoma Watch has a pending lawsuit against the City of Tulsa to compel the release of investigation results and records pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Records Act. 

In addition to state law, the Oklahoma Watch report said the section of the policy manual, which was updated and approved by Chief Franklin seven months before officers arrested Paris, is not being followed. The police states: “The nature of the allegations, the results of internal investigations, and any disciplinary action taken will be treated as a matter of public information.” 

More recently, a Feb. 13 Tulsa World report by Kevin Canfield stated a Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 93 survey conducted in February 2023 found that “85% of respondents said morale has gotten worse under Franklin’s leadership.”  

The report said: “In a Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 93 survey conducted in February 2023, the survey said 69% of the 325 active members rated morale as four or lower on a scale of 1 to 10; 55% of respondents put the number at three or lower. At the time the survey was conducted, TPD had approximately 800 sworn officers, according to the department. 

When asked what was most responsible for low morale, the survey revealed 30% of respondents cited inconsistent discipline, followed by micromanagement (21%) and staffing levels (19%). 

Poor leadership was next at 15%, with “The Chief” ranking near the bottom at 6%.” 

At that time, Mayor Bynum was quoted saying he had complete confidence in Chief Franklin’s leadership. He cited the number of significant challenges he faced in Tulsa practically from day one, and he credited Franklin’s emphasizing the deployment of technology in the field that “has led to the creation of the Real Time Information Center and the overhaul of computer systems used in every patrol vehicle.” 

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