One-On-One: OKC Police Chief Bill Citty Retires After 15 Years
OKLAHOMA CITY - Bill Citty, whose retirement from the police department became official Thursday, has been praised this week for helping move the department firmly into the 21st Century. Body cameras and a new headquarters are among the advancements that came under Citty's watch.
This praise was not unexpected.
What was unexpected, it seems, is that Citty ever became chief in the first place.
"I never wanted to be chief," Citty said, "and I wasn't sure I wanted to be chief the day they made me chief."
That day, in October 2003, came despite then-Deputy Chief Citty warning the city manager that he shouldn't hire him if he wanted the status quo, because he was intent on moving the department forward.
"And I told him," Citty recalled, "I said, 'I'm gonna probably cause you some headaches, because moving forward is not easy and it's a lot of work.'"
In an interview with News 9 earlier this week, Citty reminisced about a nearly 42-year career that had an inauspicious start: "Well, I joined," Citty explained, "because I was hungry and needed a job, and I wanted to go back and get my Master's degree and I needed some money."
What's more, Citty admits, he didn't have a very favorable opinion of police officers when he first joined, having been influenced by images of riots and protests from the 1960s. But his concerns about law enforcement's professionalism quickly changed.
"When I got onto the police department," Citty stated, "I realized how wrong I was."
Citty says he thrived in the environment and rose from patrol officer, to detective, to public information officer. Citty was the department's PIO on arguably the worst day in the city's history -- April 19, 1995.
"If the bombing doesn't shape you in some way," Citty said, "then you're not human."
Citty says the bombing reshaped his understanding of the important role that elected officials can play, especially in the aftermath of a disaster. More important, though, he says it helped him better appreciate the community he was serving.
Over his 15-plus years at the top, Citty says he connected with the community in many ways and on a regular basis. But, he says, never did he work at it more diligently than in the four to five months following the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown and the racial unrest that followed in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.
"It was constant for me," Citty recalled, "seven days a week in the evenings, because it was about being in the community and being accessible."
It was around that same time that the Oklahoma City Police Department faced its own crisis, when an officer, Daniel Holtzclaw, was accused by multiple African American women of sexually assaulting them while he was on duty.
"Holtzclaw was probably the worst abuse of power I've ever seen by a police officer," Citty remarked.
Before Holtzclaw was put on trial, and ultimately convicted on multiple counts, Citty made the decision to fire him. He says, at the time, he didn't have the option to suspend Holtzclaw without pay -- a policy that has since been changed. Citty says, had the new policy been in place in 2015, he likely would have suspended him and waited to fire him until after he was found guilty.
Still, some critics have questioned Citty's decision, believing that he sacrificed an officer to appease the African American community, in the wake of Ferguson.
"You know, I've heard that said," Citty responded, "but I can't think of anything I'd do differently."
Chief Citty did acknowledge, however, that a chief is wise not to ignore public sentiment, especially in a highly visible case.
"In those types of incidents," Citty commented, "sometimes you take consideration of the outcry in the community, the demands from the community."
Citty has taken his share of lumps over the years. Last November, four deputy chiefs filed an ethics complaint against him, contending that he had retaliated against them for pursuing a grievance over unpaid overtime. In December, the city auditor found the claims to be unsubstantiated.
Citty says one of the great joys of being chief is getting to promote deserving people. The flip side of that, he says, is that you can't promote everyone, and over a span of 15 years, you're going to let a lot or people down.
"You have to be really willing to take criticism," Citty said.
But Citty says he leaves with no regrets and no bitterness. The job he never expected to have gave him the ultimate opportunity to serve the city he loves.
"I tell people I could not have done this iob, the chief's job, for fifteen years if I hadn't grown up in this community, have a love for the community," Citty stated. "I've just enjoyed thoroughly being involved with it, even having to work through negative things."