Safety Concerns Have Tulsa Police Testing Permanent Downtown Presence
TULSA, Oklahoma - Tulsa Police are responding downtown to new concerns about personal safety with a new team of officers on the beat.
The Brady Arts District is one of the areas where panhandling has become more of an issue, and where police officers are concentrating their efforts. It's not just about panhandling but that's going to get a lot of attention from them at first.
Tulsa Police are out on foot, with a new effort to patrol downtown and stop the most immediate problem of people who appear to be homeless, asking and sometimes demanding money.
While downtown has a core group of truly homeless, police said they're usually not the problem.
"They're definitely not homeless, and this is not a homeless issue. This is an issue of people becoming aggressive with their panhandling efforts," said Captain Bob Heidlage, Tulsa Police.
Heidlage said much of the work is public relations, making sure people report any problems they have downtown, so officers can be aware of it.
"There's is a safety concern that people have, in particular, ladies, when they're walking,” said business owner, Zac Carmen.
There's also an aggressive element of enforcement. Police arrested two men after a complaint they were smoking marijuana on a bench at 6th and Main.
Officers are checking new places that transients are gathering, and they've made some arrests for outstanding warrants.
J.D. Oxford is one of four officers on the downtown team.
"That's kind of been the biggest complaint from the businesses, the aggressive panhandling,” he said.
They're starting on the panhandling but figure the relationship building will solve other problems down the road.
That was one of the main goals of the group, the Downtown Coordinating Council. They support the new police effort.
“We felt like it was time, and probably past time, that we have some sort of permanent presence downtown,” said Major Travis Yates, Tulsa Police.
Right now, it's just a 90-day test, but Yates would like it to permanent, figuring downtown is finally active enough to need a constant police force. Once the 90-day test is complete, they'll evaluate its impact.
Besides the enforcement effort, officers are working with social agencies to help the truly homeless get the services they need.