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Summary of Key Data Points in Tulsa

Summary of Findings from HRW’s Report, “‘Get on the Ground!’: Policing, Poverty, and Racial Inequality in Tulsa, Oklahoma”

Tulsa Demographics:

  • Half of all black people in Tulsa, live in North Tulsa[1], but North Tulsa is only 21 percent of the total population. The population of North Tulsa is 35.7 percent black.
  • South Tulsa is primarily white and only 9.14 percent black.
  • Overall, black people make up 17 percent of Tulsa’s population. Non-Hispanic white people make up 65.7 percent.

Poverty and Race:

  • Median income in North Tulsa is $28,900; in South Tulsa, it is $59,900.
  • Poverty rate in North Tulsa is about 33.5 percent; in South Tulsa it is 13.4 percent.
  • Citywide, 33.5 percent of black Tulsans and 13 percent of white Tulsans are below the poverty line.
  • Black unemployment is 2.37 times greater than white unemployment.

Quality of Life:

  • People in areas with predominantly black populations have much shorter life expectancy than those in mostly white areas. People in parts of North Tulsa can expect to live 70 years or less, while people in parts of South Tulsa can expect to live over 80 years.
  • Black infant mortality rates in Tulsa are three times greater than for white people.
  • Of Tulsa’s population, 45 percent have low access to nutritious food, primarily in North Tulsa.
  • The average black student in Tulsa goes to a school where 81 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunches—often used as a proxy for the percentage of students living in poverty—while the average white student goes to a school where 55 percent of students are eligible.
  • Black students are suspended from school at a rate 2.5 times greater than white students.

Police Funding:

  • Overall funding for police in Tulsa has risen from $88.2 million in 2014 to $114.8 million in 2019 (a 30 percent increase). 
  • As a percentage of the city’s general fund, police funding has risen from 31.6 percent in 2014 to 35.1 percent in 2019.

Killings by Police:

  • Police shot and killed 963 people in 2016 and 3,943 from 2015 through 2018 throughout the US.
  • Of people killed by police in the US from 2015 through 2018, 24 percent were black. Black people were killed at a rate 2.9 times greater than white people. 36.8 percent of people shot and killed who were unarmed were black.
  • Oklahoma had the third highest rate of police killings of all states in 2016 and the fourth highest in 2015. Of those killed, 20 percent were black, though only 7.8 percent of the overall population is black. Black people in Oklahoma were killed by police at 2.7 times the rate as white people.
  • Tulsa police shot and killed 16 people from 2016 through 2018. Of the 56 uses of “deadly force” (primarily shootings) by Tulsa Police officers between 2012 and 2018, 29 percent have been directed at black people. All but one in which final determinations have been made have been found by the department to be “within policy.”
  • An average of 163 US police officers died on duty each year from 2014 through 2018, ranging from 55 to 70 by violent means. None have died on duty in Tulsa since 1996.

Fees, Fines, Court Costs and Warrant Enforcement:

  • Court costs were the third most common jail booking charge for Tulsa Police Department arrests. Suspended license violations were the fifth leading charge. Suspended licenses often result from failure to pay court debt.
  • Almost 40 percent of Tulsa Police Department arrests were for warrants, by far the most common reason for arrest. Of all arrests, 17 percent were for municipal violations, invariably low-level tickets, including “failure to pay” those tickets, and 21 percent were for state level violations, which also include “failure to pay” and many low-level violations.
  • In one North Tulsa zip code with a 57.2 percent black population, each person owed an average of $590 of court debt. In a South Tulsa zip code with a 3 percent black population and much lower poverty rate, the per capita average was less than $50.
  • Black people were arrested for warrant-only offenses 2.6 times more frequently than white people.


  • Black people make up 36 percent of all people arrested; white people, 58 percent.
  • Black people are arrested at a rate 2.3 times higher than white people. They are arrested for warrant only offenses 2.6 times more frequently; for weapons offenses, 4.3 times more frequently; for drug offenses, 2.4 times more frequently; for marijuana offenses, 4.3 times more frequently; and for violent offenses, 3 times more frequently. Violent offenses made up less than 10 percent of all arrests.

Traffic and Pedestrian Stops:

  • Tulsa Police did not provide racial demographic data for stops.
  • 10 Tulsa census tracts experienced over 200 stops per 1,000 residents; most tracts were under 100. Higher black populations and higher rates of poverty correlated to more stops.
  • Over 60 percent of black Tulsans live in the higher stop neighborhoods.
  • While there was no data for how many stops resulted in searches, uses of force, interrogation or other coercive actions, Human Rights Watch measured the duration of the stops, finding that people in predominantly poor, predominantly black neighborhoods experienced stops that lasted, on average, as much as twice as long as people in wealthier, whiter areas primarily in South Tulsa.

Citations or Tickets:

  • Black people were issued citations 1.4 times as frequently as white people.
  • Black and white people received tickets for speeding and other observable moving violations at roughly the same rate. However, black people were ticketed for license and insurance violations twice as frequently as white people. License and insurance violations are only detected following a stop for some other reason and are offenses which can reflect poverty. Discriminatory use of “pretext” stops by police, that is, stops that for minor violations that might otherwise be ignored with the intent of conducting searches to reveal more serious crimes, may partially explain the disparity in these types of citations.
  • Speeding violation citations are less frequent in North Tulsa than other parts of the city, but citations for seatbelt violations are more frequent.

Police Force and Violence:

  • Tulsa police use physical force on black people 2.7 times more frequently than they do on white people. They use pepper-spray 3.6 times more frequently; tasers, 2.9 times; dog bites, 2.1 times.
  • Disparities in use of force exist even when comparing to the numbers of people arrested instead of the overall population. Per arrest, police use force on black people 18 percent more frequently than on white people. Underlying arrest numbers show strong racial disparities.
  • Of the 3,364 distinct “non-deadly” force actions by Tulsa Police officers from 2012 through 2017, the department found only two to be “out of policy,” and neither resulted in disciplinary action. (According to a different data source, they found 5 “out of policy” in that time frame, imposing discipline once).

Policing and Mental Illness:

  • Nationally, about 20 percent of calls to police involve people with mental health conditions. Tulsa got about 13,000 such calls in 2017.
  • Across the US, in recent years, 21-25 percent of people killed by police have had identified mental health conditions.

Policing and Immigrants:

  • The immigrant population in Oklahoma rose from 3.8 percent of the total to 5.1 percent from 2000 to 2010.
  • Of 570 local arrestees in the Tulsa County Jail who were placed in ICE custody in 2016-2017, 207 were arrested for driving under the influence, 74 for driver’s license, registration, or license plate violations, and 36 for public drunkenness. Only 13 percent were arrested for a violent or potentially violent offense, primarily domestic violence. These people were all exposed to potential deportation.

[1] Human Rights Watch has received conflicting definitions of what is considered North Tulsa, and has chosen to identify it as all parts of the city north of Interstate 244.

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