Many Okla. cities choose guns over cops

Cities and counties spent nearly $7.7 million of their American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds on everything from patrol vehicles to digital video systems to high-powered guns

By Gavin Off
World Data

TULSA, Okla. — While Tulsa elected to rehire police officers with its $3.5 million stimulus grant, dozens of law enforcement departments and emergency response agencies across Oklahoma used similar funding to upgrade weapons and equipment, federal stimulus data show.

Statewide, cities and counties spent nearly $7.7 million of their American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds on everything from patrol vehicles to digital video systems to high-powered guns. The stimulus money, officers said, allowed the departments to buy equipment that they needed but otherwise would not be able to afford.

They said hiring officers would create problems in the coming years when the stimulus money runs out and departments might not be able to pay them. Bartlesville Police Chief Tom Holland said his department spent some $44,000 on 55 Smith & Wesson AR-15 rifles, magazines and ammunition. Some have already been given to officers and detectives. Others are still being used for training exercises.

Prior to the purchase, most Bartlesville officers had to use their own rifles if they wanted to carry one while on duty, Holland said. "(Buying rifles) kind of gives a negative connotation, but for us, it could save lives," Holland said.

He said the AR-15s could be used for long-range shots, shots into a vehicle or in situations in which a gunman is barricaded in a house. Stillwater police officers, meanwhile, elected to buy a less lethal weapon with their stimulus dollars.

Maj. Ron Thrasher said the department spent $70,000 on 55 Tasers, each equipped with small video and audio recording systems.

Stillwater police did not have Tasers before receiving the stimulus funds. Thrasher said the cameras protect officers from frivolous lawsuits and complaints and protect the public from excessive police force.

According to federal stimulus data, the cities of Shawnee, Ponca City and Cushing also bought Tasers with a portion of their stimulus funds.

Along with the Tasers, Cushing police purchased mobile breath alcohol testing equipment and a lab fuming cabinet to detect fingerprints, said Chief Terry Brannon. Cushing police had been asking other departments to check for fingerprints in certain circumstances.

"Imagine being in rural Oklahoma and you need an item processed for latent fingerprints and you don't have the necessary tools," Brannon said. "We now have the tools to do that in-house."

Norman police bought a video and audio recording system for the interview room, said Jim Spearman, the department's professional standards administrator.

It replaces a black-and-white VHS videotape system that is more than 15 years old. Several departments across the state said using the stimulus funds to hire officers would only cause problems when the funds run dry. That's why they chose to concentrate on equipment needs.

Tulsa is wrestling with how to cover roughly $2.2 million next fiscal year when federal stimulus grant money going toward police officer salaries will be gone. It is part of $18.2 million in one-time funding and higher expenses that the city must make up before July 1.

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