OKCPD captain seeks more Native American police officers
OKLAHOMA CITY – With a seemingly lack of Native American representation in law enforcement, Oklahoma City Police Department Capt. Sharon Oster is doing what she can to increase the number of Native people protecting and serving.
Oster, who is Absentee Shawnee and Kiowa, was recognized in October as the OKCPD’s first Native female police captain at the inaugural “Reflections of Courage” gala hosted by the OKC Black Chamber of Commerce and the OKCPD.
Oster said she wants to change the stigma of Natives in law enforcement and would like to see more join, and not just in tribal law enforcement departments. In the OKCPD, there are approximately 1,000 officers and less than 10 are Native, she said.
“For such a large department that we are, to me, there should be more (Natives),” Oster said. “With me being at the end of my journey, I would like to see more Native American police officers come into law enforcement.”
She first became interested in becoming a police officer after graduating college with a degree in social work. She was also working part-time in a Dillard’s department store. She said off-duty Oklahoma Highway Patrol and OKC police officers worked part-time as security there, and she got to know them and their stories.
“I got to know a lot of them, just talking to them and listening to their stories. Then I did a ride along. Once I did the ride along I was hooked. It sounded very interesting to me, and I thought ‘I could do that job,’” she said.
After applying, a year later she was accepted in the police academy in 1991 and has been with the OKCPD for nearly 30 years. She was the only Native woman, among the six women, in her class, according to a previous Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune article.
Oster began thinking that there should be more Native police officers following a conversation she had with a fellow officer. That officer was inspired by a female officer she had seen previously that got her into wanting to be in law enforcement.
“It made me stop and think what an impact that just as a police officer that makes on people just being there, the presence of being there,” Oster said. “Then I started thinking ‘well on top of that, I’m Native American, so I go out to these calls and people see me.’ I make sure I conduct myself that will put an impression on them that maybe I can change one of these kids’ lives and encourage them to be a police officer or get into law enforcement.”
She said Natives are more apt to join tribal law enforcement, but she would like to see a more balanced number in all law enforcement. According to a previous Cherokee Phoenix article, the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service had 33 marshals who patrol a 14-county jurisdiction, about 9,000 square miles, 24 hours a day seven days a week in 56 criminal jurisdictions.
Oster said she believes the stigma on Natives wanting to be in law enforcement is caused by a lack of trust and experiences.
“I think it comes down to the trust,” she said. “They do come from these homes where the police that come into their homes, it always turns out to be negative because they’re there for domestic (violence) or Indian child welfare. It’s always something bad, so they’re going to look at it in a negative way.”
Oster added that even helping Natives while on patrol, the response has not always been positive and has been called names such as “sellout.”
In the Tribal Tribune article, she said she just wants to try and do her part to recruit Natives into law enforcement to have more representation and change the perception that being in law enforcement is a bad thing.
“Give me an opportunity to show what it’s going to provide,” she said. “Give me the opportunity to show you the positive side of it. I think it’s just reaching out more and more to these kids and teenagers, in college, recruiting more within Native Americans and trying to talk to them and teach them.”
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or call 405-297-1116.