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Legislators announce March for Reform Initiative

March

OKLAHOMA CITY- Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) announced a series of legislative initiatives aimed at police reform during a press conference at the capitol on Wednesday.

The initiative, called the March for Reform, was described as a several pieces of legislation primarily focused on police accountability. 

The announcement comes in the wake of protests across the nation denouncing police brutality in response to the death of George Floyd, and others. According to a press release following the event, Nichols supports the peaceful protests, and hopes to translate that energy into productive legislation.

The reforms proposed include creating new positions in the government to oversee law enforcement standards, training, and use of force. The initiative would also require law enforcement agencies to maintain a database of officers who were either fired as a result of, or resigned amidst, an internal investigation.

Although the legislature is out of session, Nichols said he was announcing the initiative in an attempt to build support for the measures in the interim.

“My goal is that we get that done next legislative session,” Nichols said.

Early in the conference, Nichols told an emotional story about his wife and 12 year-old son being pulled over by the police. Nichols, who is African-American, said his son was nervous. He said his wife tried to calm their son down by explaining that the worst-case-scenario from the interaction was a traffic ticket. 

“Well mom, I look older than I am. What if they don’t believe that I’m your son?” Nichols said, quoting his 12 year-old. 

He said it was disappointing that his son, who’s grandfather and great uncle were former and current police officers, felt anxiety around police interactions at such a young age.

Nichols said that although similar proposals had previously struggled in the legislature, he was optimistic about the possibility of bi-partisan support for his initiative. As evidence of this bi-partisanship, he said Rep. Mike Osburn (R-Edmond) had called for an interim study on the subject.

“I think it’s clear across the country that things have changed,” Nichols said.

House Minority Leader, Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman) was also at the press conference. She said this initiative would be used to kick off a discussion in her caucus. Virgin said a large part of the conversation would revolve around mental health services.

“They’re not social workers, and we shouldn’t expect them to be,” Virgin said, referring to police officers.

The proposed reforms include the creation of a new position within the Attorney General’s office, called the Office of Independent Monitor. This office would review cases which result in a citizen’s death due to action or inaction by law enforcement. If the Independent Monitor decides not to prosecute the officer, they would make the report of their review electronically available within 14 days of the determination.

Nichols said specifics of the legislation remain open to negotiation. For the Office of Independent Monitor, he said there are a variety of possibilities for a nomination and confirmation process, but the ultimate focus will be the office’s independence from interference. 

“The goal is to find, what’s the best way to keep that person in that office independent?” Nichols said. 

Another part of this initiative is the establishment of the Oklahoma State Law Enforcement Standards and Training Taskforce. This body would study policing standards and training, along with excessive use of force policies. Then, the Taskforce would make data-driven recommendations to the legislature to standardize law enforcement training within the state.

Finally, the initiative calls for the maintenance of a database to to notify law enforcement agencies when an officer is fired for misconduct. Additionally, it would require the reporting of officers who resign amidst internal investigations prior to being fired with cause. 

Rep. Trish Ranson (D-Stillwater), said she supports Nichols’s proposals, and that an interim study is a step in the right direction. She said interim studies often lead to legislation when the next session begins.

“Those are really tangible things you can do,” Ranson said of the proposed reforms.

She said the size and complexity of the issues surrounding police accountability make it difficult to take meaningful steps towards reform. Ranson said Nichols had worked with community stakeholders in the process of writing these proposals.

“We all have a part to play in the puzzle of life,” Ranson said. “And the legislature has its part to play.” 

Ranson said she supports the initiative, but that changes on the local level were still needed to enhance accountability.

“This is a piece of the puzzle,” Ranson said of the March for Reform. “This isn’t the answer to everything.”

The next session of the Oklahoma Legislature will begin Feb. 1, 2021, according to the Oklahoma Constitution.