The Edmond Sun

April 25, 2013

Police chief shares lessons learned with AGs

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Social media is a must-use tool for reaching certain audiences in today’s information age, Edmond Police Chief Bob Ricks said Thursday.

Ricks was one of the featured speakers during a Thursday-Friday conference at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel on law enforcement in a new age of public safety. It is being sponsored by the National Association of Attorneys General. Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt is chairman of the association’s 11-state Midwestern Region.

Topics being addressed include crime prevention best practices, lessons from law enforcement, the dramatic reduction in crime in New York City, emerging solutions with domestic violence homicides, breaking the cycle of criminal behavior and the true costs and benefits of reducing violent crime.

In addition to offering a list of public safety lessons learned, Ricks discussed aspects of the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing and the Boston Marathon bombing. It was the 18th anniversary for the OKC bombing and the 20th for the fiery end of the Branch Davidian stand off near Waco, Texas.

On April 19, 1995, Ricks was special agent in charge of the FBI’s Oklahoma City office. While driving back from a law enforcement charity event, he was briefed on what had happened. A colleague asked him if he knew what day it was. Ricks asked why. He was reminded about Waco.

“At that point, my heart somewhat sank,” Ricks said. “We’d all been on high alert the year after. The right-wing militant groups were really beating the drums very strongly.”

In Oklahoma City, Ricks was escorted downtown where he met the city’s police chief and fire chief. They met in front of the shell of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. They tried to estimate what the number of fatalities would be.

“We had estimates as high as 500 when we first arrived,” Ricks said.

Regarding jurisdictional authority, officials at the time were operating under Presidential Decision Directive 2, which said the FBI would coordinate response to a terrorist event on U.S. soil, Ricks said. Ricks and the officials agreed it was terrorism and they offered to give him all the support he needed.

“Then I’m standing there in front of this building and I say, ‘Where do you go from here?’” Ricks recalled.

The first thing he did, coming from a perspective that valued religion, was to say a prayer seeking guidance and asking that justice would be revealed through their work that day.

“Then we had to swing into action,” he said.

Officials expanded an outside perimeter of more than 16 blocks wide, Ricks said. Bombing debris was collected up to a half-mile away. A permanent command post was established and by the end of that day Southwestern Bell had installed more than 200 phone lines.

On the morning of April 20, 1995, Ricks was near the building when he was told about the discovery of a rear axle from the Ryder truck that contained the bomb. Ricks told them to guard it with their lives, knowing it would probably be the key piece of evidence.

A vehicle identification number on the rear axle led to a crime bureau in Dallas, which identified the Ryder truck, which led to Ryder headquarters in Florida, which led agents to a body shop in Junction City, Kan. Employees helped the FBI on a composite drawing and local hotel employees supplied a name: Timothy McVeigh.

McVeigh was already in jail after being pulled over about 80 miles north of Oklahoma City by an observant state trooper who noticed a missing license plate on a yellow Mercury Marquis. McVeigh had a concealed weapon and was arrested 90 minutes after the bombing.

Ricks offered lessons learned including know your counterparts. On April 19, 1995, when he met with the Oklahoma City officials, they had established relationships and trust. He mentioned the Edmond Police Department’s relationship with Edmond Public Schools and active shooter training scenarios.

Get the right people to carry out the investigation utilizing local people, Ricks said. Also, examine the lasting impact, he said, citing McVeigh’s feelings about Waco. He urged professionals to be guided by evidence, not theories. And he urged them to be media savvy.

Other speakers included DeWade Langley, director of the University of Central Oklahoma’s School of Criminal Justice. During an overview of best practices, Langley touched on information relevant for agencies in places like Edmond, Lawton and Stillwater. He said it is easier to change the behavior of, say, victims of burglary rather than criminals. | 341-2121, ext. 108