By Mikey McCareins
Keith Humphrey has been racially profiled in his own neighborhood, which unfortunately, does not seem uncommon for an African-American in 2018. However, what is uncommon is for that African-American to be a city’s chief of police.
Humphrey, the police chief for the city of Norman, knows he doesn’t have a normal job – because normal jobs don’t require working for over 100,000 people. They also usually don’t require working over 12 hours most days, managing over 150 people – officers – and developing plans to improve a city’s safety all while trying to maintain a life outside of work. More notably, he’s doing all of that as an African-American in a field where many employees are labeled as discriminatory against African-Americans and other minorities.
It may not sound enticing on first glance, but it’s something Humphrey always aspired to do.
Humphrey’s day starts around 8 am and lasts long.
“I haven’t left the office before 9 pm yet this week,” Humphrey said on a Thursday.
A native of Dallas, Humphrey has been in law enforcement for 30 years, starting his career in Fort Worth before moving to Arlington, Texas, for 14 years in mostly patrol operations. In 2008, he became the police chief of Lancaster, Texas, a suburb of Dallas with nearly 40,000 residents. Working his way up the ladder in becoming a police chief has always been a lifelong goal of Humphrey’s.
“My goal is to eventually be a major city chief if that’s where God wants me to go,” Humphrey said.
Despite a lengthy career in law enforcement, Humphrey didn’t always plan on going into law enforcement. He said that many people, even some close to him, don’t know that he initially was a pre-med major at Texas A&M-Commerce. Soon after, he decided he couldn’t commit to the lengthy career in education the field requires, so he changed majors to earn a degree in business administration – also earning his MBA at Amberton University in Garland, Texas.
Even with the career change, Humphrey still serves to save and protect lives, pioneering his department’s vision of making Norman one of the safest cities in America.
“We keep our crime rates down, but the main thing is continuing to develop proactive relationships in the community and getting citizens involved,” Humphrey said. “The main thing is community engagement, getting people involved and aware of what’s going on in their city and immediate areas.”
Citizen interaction and education is what Humphrey in particular has focused on since arriving in Norman. Since his arrival seven years ago, over 300 Norman residents have gone through the citizen police academy program, and Humphrey stressed the importance of knowing and developing positive relationships with neighbors to prevent crime in communities.
Norman resident Andy Rieger was in Humphrey’s first citizen police academy class in 2011 and 2012.
“He’s been very good in trying to involve the community in the police department,” Rieger said. “The citizen’s police academy involves about 20 people a year, and they take you through the steps of what police officers go through on a daily basis in their practices, patrols and reports.”
Sgt. Jeff Casillas, who has been at the Norman Police Department for over 11 years, has worked closely with Humphrey for most of his tenure and spoke highly of the chief’s level of interaction with his staff and the community.
“The chief is always modest,” Casillas said. “I’ve noticed that since he got here, he’s gotten to know everybody on a personal level. He will always take people to lunch. There’s been more of a family atmosphere.”
Humphrey stresses the importance of trust in his department.
“I want them to trust me. I don’t want employees to be intimidated by me. They know when I mean business, but if I’m going to officers directly, I’m going to them to praise them,” Humphrey said.
Respect and trust is something that goes a long way in the particular line of duty, especially in 2018 as police brutality, misconduct, and racial injustice continue to be major topics of discussion across the United States.
Rieger, the former editor of the Norman Transcript, commended Humphrey’s transparency about touchy issues, having developed a relationship with him through years of covering stories on the Norman Police Department.
“He’s always been very open and transparent when they have an issue,” Rieger said. “He addresses situations head on. He also sees police work in a bigger lens than most police officers do. Most police officers don’t look at the bigger picture of, ‘why are we doing this?’ He has a bigger-vision approach than most police officers.”
Humphrey in particular has a unique role – he’s an African-American man serving as the chief of police for a city where African-Americans account for just 4.1 percent of the population, according to normanok.gov. That’s almost 50 percent less than Oklahoma’s total African-American population of 7.8 percent.
He remarked that it’s his job to educate his employees on those topics, and use his platform and situation to be an example.
“I would be remise if I did not sit down with officers and provide history on why there’s this feeling right now between African-Americans and law enforcement,” Humphrey said. “I have to educate my department – I have a lot of millenialls who are not in tune with the civil right era.”
“It’s toward me also. Hell, I probably catch it worse than anybody because at some point I may be considered a traitor, but it’s my job to educate them,” Humphrey added.
While America’s eyes focused on former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s movement, Humphrey hasn’t held back from having conversations about the topic in his department. Sparking conversation and educating officers and trainees about Kaepernick’s purpose is what Humphrey said his responsibility is. It’s up to them to make up their mind on if they agree.
Humphrey opened up about his experiences being discriminated against, being called racial slurs and being profiled even in his neighborhood since his arrival in Norman. Once, a man in his neighborhood asked what he was doing in the area while he was walking his dog.
“I don’t take it personally, I take that as a learning moment and as an opportunity to make myself a stronger person and pass that on to people here.”
While Humphrey has made clear that he is happy in Norman, he has also been open and honest about his desire to become a chief of a major city of over 500,000 people, his long-term goal.
That opportunity nearly came for him last year, as he was one of two finalists for to be Kansas City’s police chief, even reaching talks about salary and relocation with the department before they decided to take the other candidate.
“I’ll stay here as long as God will have me here, because I like it here,” Humphrey said. “Sometimes, the job can get frustrating, but I’d like to see the department expand and a lot more of these guys (in the department) move up and promote.”
Although he came close in 2017 with the Kansas City job, Humphrey still has his sights set on becoming the police chief of a major U.S. city. He also didn’t hold back when acknowledging the Norman Police Department’s success under his tenure.
“We have other departments that come and shadow what we’re doing, we get requests for officers all over the country and we have employees on national boards. I think we’re the best department in the state.”