Report Finds 'Buying Rank' Practice Violates City Ethics Code

Thursday, September 15th 2016, 10:54 pm
By: News On 6

A City of Tulsa internal investigation into police officers paying higher-ranking officers to retire, so they can be promoted, finds the process violates ethics, codes and personnel policy.

A News On 6 joint investigation with The Frontier that began last March has uncovered new information about the City’s stance on the police department's practice.

The City of Tulsa acknowledges the ‘Buying Rank’ process must be stopped, but in a newly obtained memorandum from the city’s Human Resources department, the City doesn’t plan to investigate officers that might have participated, nor take any action against them.

It’s a practice some former Tulsa Police officers say has been going on for decades.

Each year, officers test and get ranked on a list to be promoted; but our joint investigation with The Frontier found officers on the list – fearing they could get ranked lower on next year’s test – would entice supervisors to retire early, usually for money - sometimes upwards of $50,000.

After our reports, the City of Tulsa began an internal HR investigation. The findings detailed in a memorandum show: The city believes the police department’s “buying rank” practice is unethical and “must be stopped.”

The Frontier: Tulsa Police ‘buying rank’ practice violates city ethics code, charter, personnel policies, report finds

Civil Service Commission chairman, Walter Haskins said, “Frankly, that makes my blood boil.”

The issue was discussed last Thursday at the city’s Civil Services Commission meeting. There, Haskins said he wants the city to discover if any current TPD officers participated in the buying promotion practice.

“And maybe we could ask Human Resources to get to the bottom of that,” he said.

Saying something more needs to be done.

Haskins said, “I think it’s something that is deserving of perhaps some action.”

So far, only former Tulsa police officer, now sheriff, Vic Regalado admitted to participating in the process.

Haskins said, “Which the supervisor would retire about a month early so Regalado could gain the rank of sergeant.”

Regalado gave us a statement saying, “I have addressed these allegations in this past. I maintain that I did nothing illegal or immoral.”

In June, Mayor Dewey Bartlett issued an executive order that would require all city employees to sign an affidavit after a promotion, stating they made no financial agreement when getting the promotion.

6/8/2016 Related Story: Tulsa Mayor Signs Executive Order To Halt TPD Officers 'Buying Rank'

Thursday, Bartlett gave News On 6 a statement saying:

“The changes we are seeking to the promotions policy and the executive order end this practice. As soon as it was made apparent that this activity had occurred or potentially occurred in the past, I requested the review from our Human Resources Department so that we had a clear understanding if it was or was not proper.

“Not until we had the memo did we have a policy to create, an Executive Order to create, and a position on how we address this practice. Retroactive investigations into alleged practices that occurred before a policy against such allegations existed is not planned.

“Everything I have done is meant to end the practice from the time of the Executive Order going forward and I will defend my order and the new promotions policy so that it is assured to never happen again. I cannot speculate whether or not the Civil Service Commission will ask Human Resources to do an investigation. It is up to the Civil Service Commission to decide their steps.

“My focus has been on ending threats that endanger the integrity of our promotions process and I have been successful. Going into the past to punish alleged actions over policies that were not clearly identified then, as they are now as a result of the memo, is not helpful from my perspective.”

The police union has filed a grievance against the mayor’s executive order, saying it violates collective bargaining agreements.

The Civil Services Commission says it wants the city to determine if any current officers paid for their stripes, saying it might pursue such an investigation on its own.

3/24/2016 Related Story: We The People Wants Investigation Into TPD Practice Of 'Buying Rank'

We The People Oklahoma founder, Marq Lewis, filed an ethics complaint against the city for the ‘Buying Rank’ procedure and also released a statement, saying:

“I am encouraged to know that the city of Tulsa has taken the steps to stop this. That gives people security to let people know something is wrong, we are going to handle it from the city perspective.

“However, the issue shouldn’t end there. The city of Tulsa needs to hire an investigator to audit TPD for this issue. I have zero confidence to know that the Tulsa Police Department will investigate themselves.”