Engage public in search for new police chief

08/25/2014 7:07 PM

08/26/2014 12:07 AM

As the community prepares for Police Chief Norman Williams to retire Sept. 6, and for Deputy Chief Nelson Mosley to take over as interim chief, City Manager Robert Layton is smart to launch a thorough operational assessment of the Wichita Police Department. He also should engage the community in the search for a new top cop.

On the Opinion pages on Sunday, Mayor Carl Brewer hailed Williams as “a decorated law enforcement officer, a distinguished leader and a consummate professional” as well as “a generous and humble man.”

But Williams’ 14 years as chief have had their challenges, including over how racial-profiling complaints and officer-involved deaths are handled. This month’s episode in Ferguson, Mo., has raised more worthy questions about modern policing hardware and tactics and community and race relations.

As the Rev. Junius Dotson wrote in an Eagle commentary last week, “the call to greater transparency with the installation of more cameras in police cars has gone unheeded.”

It was troubling to learn last week that 26 police employees have witness-credibility issues – though good news that the department no longer accepts job applications from anyone with convictions involving dishonesty, such as shoplifting or theft.

And though the number of all crimes fell 3.5 percent last year, The Eagle frequently hears from readers who wish the police would do more about traffic scofflaws and property criminals. By last week, for example, the city already had seen 21 traffic fatalities in 2014, compared with 27 for all of 2013 and 23 in 2012.

So Layton’s call for “a good, comprehensive dialogue with the community” seems timely and appropriate.

To be coordinated by Deputy Chief John Speer with assistance from Deputy Chief Hassan Ramzah, the assessment will focus on operational policies and procedures, community and employee relations, organizational structure, safety and training programs, community policing, use of technology, communication and engagement activities, and inter-agency relations. The Center for Urban Studies at Wichita State University’s Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs will help with research, engagement and writing of the report, which is due Dec. 31.

Meanwhile, Layton should plan to be as transparent and inclusive as possible as he conducts the search for a new police chief. That means not replicating the secretive selection process in 2000, when then-City Manager Chris Cherches involved two citizens panels but did not make public either the panelists’ names or the questions asked.

Hiring a police chief is more than a personnel matter, especially when he or she will oversee 840 employees and an $80 million budget in a city with more than 382,000 residents. An open search, with plenty of community input, will build public trust and serve public safety.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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