Wichita’s community racial profiling advisory board will retain its independence, but will cede much of its authority to a City Hall review panel under an ordinance approved unanimously Tuesday by the City Council.
Council members voted 6-0, with council member James Clendenin absent, to approve an ordinance making City Manager Robert Layton’s quarterly review board the official investigator and regulator of racial profiling complaints against the city’s Police Department, bringing the city into compliance with state statutes requiring a city racial-profiling board.
The ordinance retains the existing independent racial profiling advisory board as a first stop for profiling complaints against police, with 14 current members and the possibility of seven more.
Racial profiling will be the subject of a 4 p.m. June 17 march from 21st and Hillside to Wichita Police Department Patrol North, at 3015 E. 21st St.
Tuesday’s vote left some members of the community advisory board perplexed and concerned about a potential loss of authority. Some proposed a six-week delay in the council’s vote so the city’s district advisory boards could weigh in.
“As I look at this as a citizen, if we can take this to the DAB boards we can run this through them and get this all solved out,” said Ken Thomas, the treasurer of the community racial profiling group. “What we’re afraid of is we might still have independence, but it’s like any business. The best way to kill something is to put another organization on top of it that meets quarterly.”
Layton said after the meeting that any formal investigative and regulatory authority would subject the community board to city regulations, which govern such issues as term limits, grant applications and public advocacy, and would require council appointments. Under those terms, he said, the group likely would have to be downsized.
Juanita Blackmon, the secretary of the advisory board, told council members the group values its independence.
“Rubber stamping and puppet, and we refuse to let any government officials hinder our voice ... ,” she said. “We recommend that we stay an independent board.”
Under the new ordinance, a memorandum of understanding outlining the duties and interaction of the two boards would be reached with Layton’s office in the next few weeks. The city manager said he remains open to meeting more often than quarterly if complaints dictate.
Blackmon said the profiling group wants an additional member on Layton’s review board to bring its number to three, quarterly analysis of traffic and pedestrian citation data, and quarterly reports on the number of profiling complaints filed against police.
Tuesday’s lack of details on the memorandum concerned members of the community board, who described themselves as “cautiously optimistic” after the vote.
“The devil is in the details,” Thomas said. “This is his legacy, Layton’s, how this works out.”
Council member Lavonta Williams, who supported the ordinance, sought to reassure board members from the bench.
“One of the things I want to make sure of is the board as it exists maintains its independence,” she said. “I know what you do in the community. I know that people feel comfortable coming to you to vent, to ask for information and to be educated. I see you as being more important to what we’re trying to accomplish. You are the voices of many people stopped and frisked, and I thank you for what you’re doing.”
“Independence is very crucial to community people coming forward to vent their voice,” said Emile McGill of Wichita. “If there’s indeed three people from the independent board sitting on the review board, then I think we have an obligation and bring that message accordingly to help the citizens.”
The Wichita Police Department has had an independent citizens racial profiling board since 2005. In 2010, Layton expanded the work of his review board to handle completed profiling investigations by the police. The review board is made up of citizens from each council district and at-large members.