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Okarche police chief critical of predecessor

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New Police Chief Mark Sterling.
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Claims officers worked in unsafe environment

OKARCHE, Okla. – Decisions made by former Okarche Police Chief Bob Gamble created safety concerns for officers who were forced to patrol the streets without proper communication equipment.

New Police Chief Mark Sterling told the Town Board and a large group of citizens Monday night that hand-held and patrol car radios were inadequate.

“The car radios didn’t work well. There were dead spots in alleys and they (officers) would try to call it in. The poor guys were out there and couldn’t call it in,” he said.

Sterling also made public Monday that the former police administration ordered officers not to call deputies with Canadian County or Kingfisher County for help. Sterling said he didn’t understand why any police chief would force his officers to work without backup.

“I don’t know what their reasoning was, but it created a very dangerous situation for the officers,” he said. “With all my years in law enforcement, I know cooperation is the key. If it’s 2, 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and I’ve got a situation, I’m going to get on the radio and ask for help.”

A memo attributed to former police Lt. Mark Blackwood instructed officers not to contact either county agency for help. Blackwood has since resigned amidst allegations that he acted improperly on several occasions. Blackwood reportedly would have been suspended if he had not resigned, The Warrior has learned.

Sterling could not comment on Blackwood’s resignation because of state and federal privacy laws.

During Monday’s meeting, Sterling told the town board members and citizens that one former police official took assault rifles from the department and placed them in his personal gun safe. However, Sterling admitted the department had no gun safe of its own at the time.

Since being hired, Sterling purchased a gun safe for the police department.

“The former chief must have told him it was OK,” Sterling said during a telephone interview Tuesday.

“I picked them up from his house. Everything is now compliant as it should be.”

Each officer will be trained to use the assault rifles in case of an active shooter incident at one of the local schools.

“Once they are trained, they (assault rifles) will be given to each officer,” he said. “They will have to stay proficient so there will be training once a quarter.”

Since Sterling arrived in Okarche, the police department is now equipped with tasers and the correct number of shotguns. Only two members of the department are certified to carry a taser, Sterling said.

“There were not enough shotguns,” he said. “We have rifles, but the problem is the last regime did not allow them to be used.”

Gamble could not be reached for comment in connection with Sterling’s remarks.

Sterling also told the town board that Okarche’s police reporting system was “from the 1960’s.” He said no accidents or crime reports had been put into a system that networks with other law enforcement agencies.

A program known as OTIS has been installed and will allow Okarche police to be federally compliant with its reporting system.

Sterling made it clear he intends to protect all citizens.

“I know you want the best police protection money can buy,” he said during the town board meeting. “This town is full of good, decent people and I want my family to be a part of it.”

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Tim Farley

Tim Farley is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years of experience, including...

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