y Johnny O’Mara, Crime Editor
Saturday, 25 February 2006
Tulsa Police Chief Dave Been spoke frankly with Tulsa Today in an exclusive interview about his suspension last Monday, the critical report on Tulsa’s SWAT team, and how he believes these events are impacting the Tulsa Police Department.
Mayor Bill LaFortune announced at a public press conference that he suspended Chief Been and appointed Bill Wells as "Acting-Chief" Monday February 22. Been told Tulsa Today that he was “shocked” as he was escorted by the mayor’s staff from the police downtown headquarters. Now he said, “I can’t even get into my office without the mayor’s staff escorting me.”
Mayor LaFortune alleges that Chief Been failed to immediately deliver to him a copy of a report issued by a consultant retained by the City of Tulsa, retired Los Angeles Police SWAT Lieutenant Ron McCarthy, through the National Tactical Officers Association. That report, critical of the Tulsa SWAT team, was requested by Been and his staff following a SWAT call out on Lakewood avenue in Tulsa.
“We saw there was something that needed to be addressed and we asked that a report be made about it,” Been said. But LaFortune claims the Chief attempted to hide the report from him and claimed Chief Been had an opportunity to deliver a copy of the report to the Mayor during a meeting after the report had been submitted to the Tulsa Police Department.
“The fact is,” Been told Tulsa Today, “The report was only a preliminary, very shallow report. Before I even saw the report … it was common knowledge; there was no attempt to hide anything from anyone. I don’t know why he didn’t know about it.”
Been denies all of the allegations leveled by the mayor. “The meeting he’s talking about was mostly about personnel and manpower issues. This [report] wasn’t even a topic. Like always, the mayor was late to the meeting and left after about 45 minutes. There wasn’t really an opportunity to give him the report.”
“The very second [the Mayor’s Chief of Staff] Clay Bird asked for the report I hand delivered it to him” Been said. He also vividly remembers that Bird commented at that time that the report was being asked for by the Mayor. “By all means, he (Mayor LaFortune) should have it,” Been remembers saying.
After the Mayor’s press conference, broadcast news reporters uncovered documents that show that Mayor LaFortune had signed an authorization for the review and report in December 2005. In that document, the Mayor authorized the National Tactical Officer’s Association to come to the city and assess SWAT team tactics and make a report. The obvious question is why the Mayor did not remember that authorization.
“[LaFortune] was totally disconnected from the department,” Been said.
Been explained how Deputy Chief Mark Andrus and several other top police brass read the report before he did. “Like I said, there was nothing to hide and nobody to hide it from,” Been said.
The report is critical of several incidents surrounding the SWAT team but, according to Chief Been, McCarthy had explained to him that the preliminary report would sound almost completely negative because it was a report based on problems the SWAT team was having and not the positive points of the team.
Chief Been read to Tulsa Today a portion of McCarthy’s cover letter which said, “I realize this report is negative from the stand point that it only dwells on the negative.” The letter went on to note that the report as submitted was only a preliminary report and that the final report, which was due by contract in April of 2006, would be much more tempered in it’s critical description of the SWAT team and the department.
“There are many positive things that can be said; much that is positive that reflects the SWAT team and the Tulsa Police Department. The formal review will balance all of the good news,” Been read from the letter.
Been points out that McCarthy’s report may sound critical now but the reason it is so harsh is because he was contracted to find problems in the SWAT team, not to come in and report on the tactics and issues that reflect well on the team. “He was listening to rumors and complaints from former SWAT officers that only pointed to the negative points.” In the report, McCarthy points to tactics used by one police officer on one SWAT call out that may have been out of policy.
Other sources within the department say on the condition of anonymity that the trouble with the SWAT team is, in large part, dissatisfaction from former SWAT members who are associated with McCarthy. “That’s all this guy had to go on,” these sources said. “He was being told all the rumors and negative things before he came here and then he came in and only focused on five negative incidents. So, of course his report is going to look bad.”
Chief Been pointed out that he was concerned about public reaction to the preliminary report because the Tulsa Police Department is a “Bargaining Unit Department” and therefore, officers accused of anything have a right to have an investigation carried out. “We have to keep reputations of innocent people from getting sullied,” he said. “That’s what’s concerning me now. These officers are getting smeared when the reality is they are good, brave police officers that are getting their names and reputations drug through the mud. That’s disturbing.”
Chief Been said that for several years now there has been a discourse in the SWAT team. “This started after the retirement of one man from the team. The problems that grew from that are what I have today. That’s why I put Captain MacDonnell over the SWAT team. He’s a good people person and that’s what was needed at the time.” But the report issued by McCarthy was critical of the structure of the team and, in response, Been moved personnel around replacing MacDonnell with Captain Tracie Crocker, a long time SWAT team negotiator. “The changes were taking place,” Been said.
Been said he had implemented most of McCarthy’s recommendations listed in the initial report. “Some of the things were not implemented because they were not issues that happen here in Tulsa,” Been said referring to McCarthy’s suggestion that chiefs within the department not be called out to SWAT scenes and interfere. “That doesn’t happen so, of course there’s nothing we could do about changing things like that.”
But Chief Been said his concern is not really with the report or the Mayor’s allegations that the report was kept from him – his concern is for the effect all of is having on the officers of the department. “These men and women are wonderful, brave people and now they’re ducking and hiding for cover,” he said.
“My job is fine. It’s a civil service position and in order for me to be terminated I have to do something wrong. That’s why I am on leave with pay. Once the issues are looked at, in a fair and impartial way, I will be back,” Been said.
“For the Mayor to paint the SWAT team with such broad strokes is abhorrent. These are excellent people, brave police officers, and wonderful servants to the people of Tulsa. Their reputations are being damaged. I don’t care about myself or my job being in jeopardy, what I care about is the officers of this department,” Been said.
One SWAT officer, speaking to Tulsa Today for the record, but on the condition of anonymity said, “I feel like just giving it up.”
Other officers within the department expressed concern over the Chief’s suspension and questioned Mayor LaFortune’s timing. There is broad suspicion within the department that suspending Chief Been was a “Huge overreaction to the Fraternal Order of Police endorsement of Mayoral Candidate Randi Miller.”
“It’s the act of a desperate man,” officers said of LaFortune who is days away from a hotly contested primary election for the office he has held for the last four years.
One high ranking police official who spoke only on the condition of anonymity said “[Mayor LaFortune is] throwing a temper tantrum because the FOP didn’t endorse him and now he wants someone in the Chief’s Seat who he knows will be his lap dog; someone who will control the expressed opinions of the rank and file.”
Last Updated ( Sunday, 26 February 2006 )