By JOSH NEWTON
Candidates looking to be Tahlequah’s chief of police outlined their goals for the department during a Friday afternoon luncheon of the Cherokee County Democratic Women.
Each candidate was given five minutes to speak about his campaign.
Candidate Charley Batt began his law enforcement career in 1977 as a security officer for the Cherokee Nation, he said. A few years later, he was accepted into the Oklahoma Highway Patrol academy, and later patrolled Cherokee County as a trooper for 31 years.
“My No. 1 goal is to serve and protect the citizens of Tahlequah,” said Batt. “My commitment is to increase the level of protection by keeping officers on the street and being involved with the community, and to provide proactive and professional law enforcement. This means more crime intervention and prevention.”
Batt said his office will collaborate with other law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal level, and will also use grant funding to improve equipment and officer training.
“All personnel will be trained to meet the needs of the community, and will be tasked with a higher level of integrity and professionalism,” said Batt.
Batt said he has received specialized training and certifications in skills such as officer survival, school violence, criminal intelligence, drug interdiction, automobile theft, domestic terrorism, and tactical weaponry.
During his career as a trooper, Batt worked with the U.S. Marshal Service, Department of Corrections, Department of Justice, Office of the District Attorney, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I am a lifelong resident of Tahlequah; I raised my family and my children here, so I have deep roots here in this community,” said Batt, who graduated from Tahlequah High School and studied criminal justice at Northeastern State University. “As a state trooper, we had one goal in mind, and that was to protect the lives and property of the people of Oklahoma. I would like to continue with this service and commitment to the citizens of Tahlequah as the chief of police.”
Steve Farmer introduced himself as a former police chief who served in the office from 2005 through 2009, and said he hopes to represent the community again in that same role.
“Currently I’m a business owner. The reason my business has been successful is because I employ the best people for the job,” said Farmer. “They’re professional and they get training so they know what they’re doing, and they successfully complete the job. As your police chief, that’s what I will do: I will have the best officers possible; they’ll be professionals; they will get training, the best training that’s out there; and they will get the job done. That’s how I did it before and that’s how I’d do it again.”
Farmer said state statistics show Tahlequah’s crime rate decreased during his term in office and was at its lowest in 2008.
“And ever since then, it’s been continuously climbing, so I want to work on lowering the crime rate,” said Farmer. “We need to get equipment out there for our officers to use. There’s a tax that’s coming up; if it doesn’t pass, then where are we going to get the money for the equipment that’s needed? We can write grants; there are programs available out there where we can get this at maybe very little or no expense to the citizens of Tahlequah.”
Farmer said he hopes to provide training to officers so they are able to do their jobs “to the best of their ability” while taking care of the community.
“It takes all of us. The police department can’t do it by themselves; the chief can’t do it by himself; and the community [members] can’t do it by themselves,” said Farmer. “It’s a group effort, a partnership; we have to work together, and that’s what I want to do is bring the community and our law enforcement back together and work together on making this the best town in Oklahoma.”
Nate King said he is now the director of community sentencing at the Cherokee County Courthouse, running day-to-day operations and managing a caseload of around 100 people on felony probation.
His career began in 1999 at the police department as a dispatcher before he was promoted to patrolman. He later served as the Drug Awareness Resistance Education officer, and eventually became a TPD detective.
King said he also coordinated Oklahoma Highway Safety Office grants for the police department.
“During my career, I have picked up the ability or the knowledge to be bilingual; I speak Spanish, I translate on a regular basis for Cherokee County District Court, or even law enforcement agencies when they need help,” said King.
King worked for a time as the lead investigator at the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office and later received a bachelor’s degree.
“I was also assigned to the District 27 Drug Task Force while there and was in charge of evidence,” said King. “Throughout my career, I have moved through different aspects of my career because of motivation – motivation for lifelong learning and motivation for community, to make a difference in our community.”
King said it’s well-known that money is often scarce for agencies, and grant-writing will be necessary to fill gaps in the police department budget and workforce.
“We have to involve the community; it’s a community effort, no matter what we do,” said King. “Long gone are the days of just writing tickets and just arresting people. We have to educate the public, we have to prevent crimes from happening to make our town safer. One of the ways to do that is to improve morale within the police department, to get people on board – the officers of the police department on board with the direction of the police department.”
King said he will work with the local Fraternal Order of Police and the city council to develop short-term and long-term strategic plans for the department “so that we have a direction with vision.”
“I feel if we don’t know where we’re going, it’s hard to stay on the right path,” said King. “We are electing a manager of the police department; it’s a position, but we need to elect a leader to be that manager, and leadership is a quality. ... The chief is one of 31 officers at that department. He can’t do it alone; it takes the bolstering of a team concept, and it takes motivation and inspiring the officers at the Tahlequah Police Department.”
Incumbent Chief of Police Clay Mahaney said he believes he has provided the community with a strong department the past four years.
“We’ve got hard-working, qualified officers who are professional, who go out there and get the job done,” said Mahaney. “Morale is very good, and the way I judge that is by what they do and what I see. If the officers aren’t happy, they aren’t going to work as hard, and they work very hard for you all every day, put their lives on the line for you and get results.”
He said he also judges department morale based on what he sees when shift changes occur.
“When [officers] are not happy, they don’t visit with each other, they don’t speak, they’re ready to get out of there and go home,” Mahaney said. “These guys are happy, talking to each other, sharing with each other.”
Mahaney also said the department has had a “rock-solid relationship” with other agencies during his tenure.
“I’ve worked with Sheriff Fisher his entire term. I continue to work with him very strongly at this point,” said Mahaney. “If he ever has any issues, he gives me a call and I do the same – not only that, but with the [Cherokee Nation] marshals, the scenic rivers, state agencies and even our federal agencies.”
Those collaborations have led to a stronger community, Mahaney said.
“We’ve been cleaning our town up. We cleaned one particular street all the way up, and with that federal agency coming in, that was able to bring us money and property to the city,” said Mahaney.
He said one major question most people ask relates to keeping children safe. Mahaney said the department had a mock scenario last year as a training exercise, and another is being planned with school administrators.
“How am I going to keep you safe? The same way I’ve been doing it for the last four years: We’re going to work hard, we’re going to stay professional, we’re going to keep working and be cooperative with the other agencies,” said Mahaney. “We’re going to work hard together and keep you safe.”