Shackled by a feeble economy even as it attempts to address “deficiencies,” the Wichita Police Department is restructuring its organization for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The changes won’t reduce the number of officers on the street, Chief Norman Williams said. In fact, a new beat has been added so more resources can focus on downtown.
But the number of captains and lieutenants have been reduced in other areas of the department. Animal control has been restructured and two positions in the air section have been trimmed.
“I’d call it transitioning the department for the future,” Williams said.
Conversations had begun even before the economic downturn in late 2007, Williams said.
“No one anticipated the budget collapse that would have caused us to maybe really go over this with a fine-tooth comb,” Lt. Doug Nolte said.
Case loads in property crimes were so heavy that detectives only contacted victims in perhaps one-fourth of all cases – those that had a good chance of being solved, Williams said.
Downtown Wichita was handled by a jigsaw of three or four different police beats.
Some areas within the department had too many supervisors and others too few.
The command staff launched discussions in September 2010 on how to restructure in a way that addressed needs within the current level of resources. The meetings were frequently contentious, Williams said, with shouting matches not unheard of and people storming out more than once.
The organizational chart that eventually emerged is being phased in over nearly a year. Changes started in September and will continue through July.
Among the changes already in place are the new beat structure, which includes putting most of downtown on one police beat. Old Town and Intrust Bank Arena, for instance, are now on the same beat.
“I think it’s good we’re all on the same beat,” Old Town Association president Charlie Claycomb said. “We all have the same problems.”
The reorganization doesn’t include a downtown patrol bureau, but Williams said that doesn’t mean the proposal is dead. He sees the new beat as a stop-gap measure.
“As downtown develops and you see more and more housing and commercial (activity) and it continues to be robust, at some point in time the decision-makers are going to need to look at ‘Do we create a Downtown Bureau?’ ” he said. “The economy right now doesn’t dictate we do it.”
Without the resources to hire more detectives, the department is creating sergeant positions in the investigations division and cutting the number of lieutenants. The sergeants won’t just supervise detectives, Williams said, they’ll handle case loads as well.
They’ll be contacting more victims of property crimes in a conscious effort to enhance the “community policing” concept that the department embraced in the mid-1990s.
The next phase to be implemented will be hiring processes, Williams said. Along with the new sergeants positions, the department needs to replace former Deputy Chief Tom Stolz, who will become director of the newly merged city-county inspection and code enforcement department on Nov. 13.
Capt. Jeff Easter is the Republican candidate for Sedgwick County sheriff after defeating incumbent Robert Hinshaw in the primary.
Even before Easter ran for sheriff and Stolz accepted his new job, the department was facing the prospect of significant administrative turnover, Nolte said. Several high-ranking officials are nearing the age at which they can retire from the department.
The reorganization provides a blueprint of what positions are needed “so we’re not scrambling to fill them” piecemeal, Nolte said.
Williams said the new organizational structure is meant to be a guiding force for the next five to 10 years.
“Even with the current reality, this reorganization is going to position us to be able to add resources in the future,” he said. “The infrastructure is in place to build on. We know the economy is down right now. We have to operate within the means that we have.”
As the economy recovers and more resources become available, he said, “we can add additional officers and detectives...without having to do any significant restructuring.”