In recent weeks, the City of Tulsa has been criticized for Tulsa Police Department's participation in A&E's "LivePD." There have been recent editorials written and protests held to request the City end its contract.
Every Friday and Saturday night, Tulsa police officers are shown on the job. One of the most frequent participants is officer Darrell Ross, who works in the Mingo Valley Division. That division's officers patrol the east and south sides of the city, including 71st Street, which is Tulsa's busiest retail and entertainment section.
In a conversation on Friday, Jan. 24, Ross spoke with TulsaPeople about why he thinks it is of value for Tulsa police officers to participate in the weekly cable program. The eight-year veteran also reflects on the reasons he became an officer and his thoughts on the new police department chief, Wendell Franklin.
You and your coworker’s presence on “LivePD” has become a much talked about issue in town lately. Do you enjoy taking part in the show?
It's pretty awesome. The great thing about it is that it lets people see what we actually do. A lot of times people will say, "I know what you do." "What do I do?" "You know, all of you do this or you do that." And where did they get that from? They get it from social media like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, but not from officers. The unique thing about the program is that it lets people see the beginning and sometimes all the way through to the end of a call. Like on the nights when it shows "Earlier in Tulsa."
That's a chance for them to hear the call — like hear it as I hear it. You know, see it sometimes as I see it. On the way there I talk to myself in my car all the time because that's my process for thinking through what I have to do on the way to the call, like what I might have to encounter during the call. Do I have everything that I need or if I need other officers or support vehicle — I can get those started.
So unless people kind of even hear a little bit about what we're thinking, and then see how people engage us and how we engage people, then it gives them a better understanding of what we do. I think Tulsa officers are very professional because we have the higher-education requirement.
We have this incredible amount of training that we have to do every year. We do more mental health training than a lot of other agencies. We do driver training, we do self-defensive tactics training, firearms and all this extra, extra, extra stuff. And hopefully that makes us a little bit more able to provide the community what they need.
I rarely watch the show, but I do frequently see clips on social media. Often times it's of you chatting up a person at the scene. You tend to appear friendly and the one getting along with everyone. In a very simple way, it's an example of community policing at work, right?
To me, it's a window literally into our cars and into what we do. I get out of my car a lot, and I like to talk to the kids and hang out with people. There are a couple parks that are in my patrol area, and I get out of the car and talk to people at the park and stuff.
Sometimes parents will be like, "Oh, if you're bad, I'm gonna let the officer take you." That's never what a cop wants to hear, right? I get out OF my car and go to a Quiktrip. "Hey, that guy’s on ‘LivePD.’" and kids are curious about all the gadgets and stuff on our vest and now they're willing to engage and start talking. They're not being taught that cops are the boogie man. We're just like them. Well, with just a little bit more stuff.
Part of the deal is you're no longer just a cop, but also a bigger public figure in a sense. It could be said it makes you like a reality TV celebrity instead of just a cop. Do you feel that way?
I don't think celebrity, but I'm just more approachable now. I think now people see me, they think "I can probably walk up and talk to that guy." So celebrity, probably not, but approachable, yes. I've always been pretty approachable.
I think at the root most people want to engage... I think people know they see me more. They realize this is a person I can talk to. And if they can talk to me, they probably can talk to any other cop. We're mostly good officers. Like I'll say in any profession or any place in the world, you can find bad people. Most officers are good people trying to do the right thing. And when people engage us, it reminds us that we're still a part of the community. Yeah. So that's, to me, that's important community policing. It goes both ways.
How does it make you feel to see taxpaying residents voice their discontent with the contract and with you officers being on the show?
Just yesterday I was approached by a lady in one of our retailers and she walks up and she goes, "Hey, how do you feel about the show? Because I think you're just taking advantage of people at their worst moments and oppressing people," and my response was "Have you ever seen the show?" She goes "No, never." I said, "Do you watch cable or get on the internet or anything like that?" "No." "Okay. So let me tell you more about the show."
I explained to her that it's people getting to see what it was like for us to hear the call, go to the calls and how we encounter people. With the nature of police work, people don't always call us to say, "Hey, come out to my birthday party." They're in a domestic situation or they're in their worst day of their life, essentially.
I've seen officers doing CPR for two minutes, while trying to help save a person's life. I've seen officers doing CPR on a person that is probably not going to make it, but they're doing their damnedest to make sure this guy at least has a chance.
You know, we've had calls like people trying to commit suicide, attempts of suicide by cop. Those are all moments that are a part of our normal days. We have a gas leak that's horrific. It's a part of our day. Yeah. People now they get to go, "Oh, all these things happen."
It's not that we're exploiting it, now people just get to see that these things actually do happen. We don't run around trying to make someone look bad. That's never our intention. No one wants to be treated like that, and we don't treat anybody like that.
We go into our daily encounters thinking, if my family is being approached by another officer, how's it going to go? What should it be like? Yeah, people always say what if they pull over your mother? I want an officer to treat my mother the way that I would treat that person you know, with a ton of respect. There's gonna be times when it's going to be ugly.
Policing is not always pretty; it's not always going to end on the highest note and there's gonna be some people who are going to do weird things like reaching into their pockets. It's how we deal with it afterwards, when things are starting to slow down. That's when you can work through your de-escalation skills, active listening skills, we calm them and talk to the person to hear where they're coming from and where we're coming from.
I think we're always gonna have the detractors definitely. But if we approached them with reason, Maybe, maybe some of them will listen. And that lady in the store, she started coming around at the end of the conversation because I told her I'm one of the officers, and it's not about the worst moment, but how we deal with that worst moment. You know, we're not running out there stealing someone's car and going, "Ha, you're gonna be on TV now." No, someone's car gets stolen then we'll respond, and we try to help them get it back.
Do you have a choice in participating? Do they come to you and say "Officer Ross, do you want a crew with you today?" Or are you assigned a camera crew?
They ask, like, "Do we have any volunteers that will like to be a part of the program? Here's what you can expect."
I've done a lot of ride-alongs, media ride-alongs, before going as far back as I think Bloomberg (Magazine) rode with me. They were with me for a couple weeks a few years ago. They did a huge article. I've had some of our news stations ride with me. Some of our City Council and Mayor (G.T.) Bynum rode with me before. So, I'm used to having people ride-along. And I'm used to engaging during the course of my day.
I'm also a field trainer, so I'm used to explaining things through from the layman perspective, but also from the cop's perspective. Here's what we're looking for. Here's why we do it. Here's the law and how it reflects on how we're gonna handle things. So I'm used to it. When asked if I want a ride-along, I say, "Sure, why not?" And I think it’s very good exposure for the department. I'm very proud of the department. You know, the policing is forced to change very quickly. As fast as society changes, policing has to change just as quickly. I'm proud to be a part of a department that is very progressive.
I talked to Deputy Police Chief Jonathan Brooks a year ago about community policing and he mentioned targeted recruiting in nationwide searches for bilingual and minority cops. Do you think this show possibly helps with those efforts? Do you and TPD view this as a recruiting tool?
Totally. So for me, I'm not from here. I'm from south Philly. I went to Temple University, which is a university in Philadelphia and has a huge criminal justice program. A lot of these people want to become cops or want to become cops and then move on to federal jobs. Doesn't hurt for me to say, "Hey guys, look, a guy from South Philly is doing this. Anyone can do it."
You know, I don't think I'm uniquely special or like a magic bunny, or anything like that. If I can do this, and I can talk to people and every day, go home safe to my family, anyone can do it. It's just a matter of wanting to do it. You know, and I really want to do it. Before most of our recruits were coming from similar locations, but now we're getting more people that are reaching out to us interested.
How's your family handle you being on TV? Does it make them any more nervous about your job?
No, I keep a pretty good separation between my police work and my family. They're very supportive. They have to be with this kind of job. They have to be very supportive. My wife and kids help me manage the social media aspect of it because like I said, before this I had did not have a Twitter account. Matter of fact, a bot had a Twitter account in my name, and I had to recover it from the bot.
I'm very Facebook light. I don't like to engage in political arguments on Facebook because no one wins. But yeah, they really do have to help me because you know, it's a lot for one person. And none of the officers get paid for [being on social media] This is this is our time, our effort. It's nice to have that support. My kids think it's hilarious. And it hasn't become too much of a burden.
I read the interview they did with you on A&E's website. You talked about how your brother being murdered more than two decades ago made you want to be a cop. What was it that made you decide that when your brother was killed you would go into law enforcement?
Where we grew up, people didn't talk to the police. There wasn't any kind of animosity with the law enforcement. It was more just like, you know, they're there. They have their role to do but, you know, it wasn't as bad as it is today. People just didn't have a comfort level where they could talk to police, so it wasn't also they will walk up and say, "Hey, I know what happened. Here's a story." So we never got justice.
And I knew that I wanted to change what I was doing with my life to eventually get into law enforcement. I wanted to be the kind of officer for people to talk to. And I think that now I'm getting there. Every now and then I'll get a success story. You know, I'll see someone that I dealt with a few years ago or a few weeks ago, and when they say, "Hey, we're doing what we talked about and it worked."
I had a lady, she found me in court, and she told me, "I've been clean. I've been looking for you trying to find you. I came to court to try to find you to let you know I've been clean." And that was, I didn’t want to be emotional, but my heart it swoll because I was just like, "Wow, it worked."
You know, it's a success because we see so many failures, or not failures, just not success. They haven't gotten there yet.
There's a young lady, her name is Melody, and I don't want to tell too much of her story, but she had bad addiction problems. And I arrested her, geez, seven years ago. She stayed clean. She is homeless, but she stayed clean. And I'm very proud of her because he was having bad liberation from her drug addiction. And she's still alive. I couldn't help her get out of her homelessness situation because part of the reason she said is out of choice, but she's still alive. You know, so she still has something to offer somebody out there. So I do this for those, the people that I can help find their own victories.
Why did you come to Tulsa from Philly in 2011?
I got two job offers. One was for Tulsa Police and the other was for the Border Patrol. You really kind of got to believe in the Border Patrol's mission. Then there was the fact I thought that I could have more of an effect on Tulsa: a big, small city. I think I could have more of a direct personal effect as a patrol officer than if I went to the border and kind of just stared out at the border.
That to me, the effects I can have here, it's more tangible and has more personal meaning. And you know, if I can help families find and get justice that works for me, and that's always that's always been a really big thing for me.
My family didn't get justice, but here I can help other people's family get justice.
Lastly, big news this week is you have a new boss. Wendell Franklin is the new chief of police. Have you worked with him? What do you expect from him as he takes on the new role?
I didn't work under him. I was here and he was at Gilcrease Division, but I met him several times over the course of my career. Really nice guy; very, very intelligent. One of the things that I do know he supports is he supports transparency. He's always been very, very clear about that. And with his skill set, I think he can get through to some of those detractors, I think he can get through to them with a lot of logic and a lot of real numbers, because some of them they're kind of making up numbers. And that doesn't help anyone...
There was a discussion about if a person sees you in uniform, it's use of force, and I need to write a report for everything. Then you wouldn't have officers on the street. I'd literally be doing a report every time I showed up in front of a person, "Hey, I wore my uniform. Here's my use of force report." That's ridiculous. If you want cops to be cops and enforce the law, protect people, protect people's property and their person. You want us to be on the streets as much as possible, because we aren't always going to be right there when it happens. We have to get to there. And if we're all coming from a division, because we're charging cameras, because we're running reports on just wearing clothing, that's ridiculous.
The numbers that we have, I'm very excited about because we're generating 40,000 videos a month. And these videos are showing officers doing what they do and doing the best they can. It's a mistake to make a mistake. But it's there. It's very transparent.