By Dylan Goforth
Phoenix Staff Writer
Three candidates are vying to knock off incumbent Tahlequah Police Department Chief Clay Mahaney in Tuesday’s election.
Mahaney, Nate King, Charley Batt and former police chief Stephen Farmer all filed for the position.
Mahaney, who’s been chief since 2009, said there are plans in the work to increase technology in the department. Tahlequah’s city council, Mahaney said, has approved a grant of nearly $10,000 for some much-needed upgrades.
“It would primarily be used for in-car laptops,” Mahaney said. “And for the software to operate them.”
Mahaney, 48, said passage of Tahlequah’s 3/4-cent sales tax, set to go into effect April 1, will allow the department even more upgrades in the future.
“Everyone running against me will say we need better technology,” Mahaney said. “But we have plans to upgrade car cameras and reporting systems and all kinds of things. Those upgrades are already on the plate, so to speak.”
Success the current administration has had solving violent crimes — no violent crimes have gone unsolved in Mahaney’s tenure, he said — is because of cooperation between departments.
“United we stand and divided we, well, we fail. Divided we fail the community,” Mahaney said. “Because we fail the public if the departments don’t get along.
“It’s what I campaigned on four years ago, it’s worked and I want to continue it.”
Farmer, who was police chief in Tahlequah from 2005 to 2009, said he would initiate a community policing program like the one that was in place when he was in office. Increased neighborhood communication helped keep the crime rate low, he said.
“We called it Tahlequah’s Night Out,” Farmer said. “It was basically where a home would host a party and people would get together to talk about issues facing their neighborhood.
“The first year, in 2006, we had five homes take part. By 2008, we had 20 homes take part.”
Farmer, 48, also said officers have told him they are lacking technology and training, something Farmer would like to focus on.
“There is $1.5 million coming to the department with the new sales tax,” Farmer said. “It’s important that that money is used correctly and wisely. When I was chief, I received over $700,000 in grants and donations. This money can change the department for the better.”
Charley Batt, a 31-year veteran of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, said whoever is the next chief needs to re-evaluate the entire department.
“If I win, I’ll start by taking a look at the department as a whole,” Batt said. “If you gear everything toward equipment, training and public safety, everything will fall into place.”
Batt, 58, said the biggest issue facing the Tahlequah community are drugs and alcohol.
“I think that’s what causes a lot of your other crimes, like burglaries and assaults,” Batt said. “It starts with drug and alcohol consumption. You control that, you’ll keep a lot of crimes from occurring.”
Nate King, who began his law enforcement career in 1999 as a dispatcher for the police department, said he’s done “a little bit of everything.”
“I’ve been a lead investigator for the (Cherokee County) Sheriff’s Office, and for the police,” King, 36, said. “Now, I’m the director of (Cherokee County) Community Sentencing.”
“I feel like the police department is in need of some leadership,” King said. “Leadership is influencing others, and I feel that could be improved on. I feel like we need more proactive police work to make the town safer.”
King said he feels like morale in the police department is low. Once that’s fixed, he said, the department can move forward.
“It’s one of the first tasks that needs to be accomplished,” King said. “We’ll hold people accountable, and I feel like if we’re accountable, and we have a department with vision, we can combat anything that comes at us. If I win, it will be a department that will constantly assess what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and make changes as needed.”
Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or firstname.lastname@example.org.