Police Review Riot Gear Policy

Monday, April 16th 2007, 4:00 pm
By: News On 6

A weekend riot has Tulsa police taking another look at their equipment policies; they want to make sure they get riot gear to officers in the fastest way possible. About 200 people threw bottles and rocks at police Saturday night while officers were trying to arrest a murder suspect. News On 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright reports that even though this type of thing doesn't happen very often, police do have the training and equipment necessary to handle it.

Each of the three police divisions has a closet filled with about 60 riot helmets, batons and 30 shields. The equipment is too expensive and used too infrequently to outfit every officer, so if there's an incident someone grabs the gear and takes it to the scene, which is what happened Saturday night.

"In this instance, from talking to a supervisor on the scene, he said there was a 15 minute timeframe from the time they got it from here to the scene and I consider that pretty good,” said Tulsa Police Major Paul Williams. “Of course, the officers at the scene thought that was way too slow and we're looking at other options on that."

The look of the riot gear is supposed to be a deterrent. All the gear is defensive, the shield and helmet protect the officers while longer batons give them additional reach to move the crowds back. And dispersing the crowd is key. Officers believe Saturday’s case started with a core group of people trying to create a distraction so murder suspect Rico Starks could escape, then the crowd turned ugly.

"When one person throws a rock or bottle or fires a round and other people have guns, if we can just disperse the crowd, even into smaller groups, they lose their courage and confidence from being in a huge group and it deescalates very quickly," Williams said.

The original arrest team of eight to 10 officers called for help, and the bullet trap officers responded first, another 10 to 12 officers, then they called for help and the SWAT team showed up, for a total of 70 officers. Police say the show of force and training are the reasons no one on either side was seriously hurt.

There was a bit of a communication glitch when the police department asked the fire department for help Saturday night. The fire department thought police requested them to spray water on the crowd and declined to help, since their policy prevents that. That's not what the officers wanted; they wanted them to spray water into the air, to create a rain situation to help break up the crowd. The fire department says it is always willing to help protect the city's officers.

Related Stories:

4/14/2007 Murder Suspect Arrested After North Tulsa Standoff

4/15/2007 Crowd Turns Violent During Tulsa Standoff