When Reserve Deputy Robert Bates fatally shot Eric Harris last week, Major Shannon Clark of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office claimed Bates completed 800 hours of training to become a volunteer officer. But the Tulsa World now reports that Bates did not complete the requisite training, and that the department falsified his records.
According to Clark, Bates was considered an advanced deputy, on par with full-time officers, due to the extensive training he received: 480 hours of field training and 320 hours of educational training. But this week, unidentified sources told Tulsa World that supervisors were forced to alter Bates’ training records. Three supervisors, who chose not to sign off on Bates’ records, were allegedly transferred out of the office. On Thursday, the publication said the claims are corroborated by records.
Additionally, Sheriff Stanley Glanz told a local radio station that Bates was authorized to use the revolver he shot Harris with, as well as two other weapons. But Glanz has since admitted he doesn’t know where Bates’ certification documents are. The Sheriff’s Office has also failed to produce records corroborating that supervisors signed off on his training, but publicized the courses that Bates allegedly completed. Moreover, Bates told the Sherriff’s Office that his advanced deputy role began in 2007, but the department said he started in 2008.
In a video that circulated after Harris was shot, Bates, a 73-year-old insurance executive who regularly donated to the sheriff’s department and served as Glanz’ re-election campaign manager, yells the world “Taser” two times. But instead of deploying his Taser, Bates fires a revolver, saying, “Oh! I shot him. I’m sorry.”
In response to the shooting, the ACLU of Oklahoma told ThinkProgress that mounting evidence suggests police departments in Tulsa County and Oklahoma County — the two largest counties in the state — routinely place donors in reserve deputy positions. As Executive Director Ryan Kiesel explained, problems arise when law enforcement agencies begin to rely on reserve officers in “high stakes, extremely dangerous situations” due to lack of funding, and allow donors to effectively buy badges.
Bates is “someone who, most likely, would never have risen to the level he was at, to serve on a violent crimes task force, but for the relationship that he had with the sheriff’s department. That’s incredibly disturbing, that we would see an instance in which an individual was able to purchase power within the police department. We recognize that there are many legitimate functions for volunteer and reserve police officers and sheriff deputies around the country, however those programs need to be limited.”
To become a reserve officer, Oklahomans have to complete 140 hours of training, compared to the (minimum) 600 hours that professional officers receive. Providing manpower at special events and natural disaster relief efforts are among the responsibilities that volunteer officers can reasonably do, according to Kiesel.
“Where we have these programs where there’s an anticipation that you can get favoritism, including an actual badge, because you’re donating to a police department, that conflict of interest goes beyond integrity. It really speaks to a threat to public safety,” he added. “The idea that we would put a volunteer on a violent crimes task force, to even be in a position to mistake a Taser for a firearm, is reckless.”