Police Chief Gordon Ramsay responds to emergency call, gets bitten by suicidal woman

Woman bites police chief

Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay explains how he got bitten by a suicidal woman when he responded to a call two weeks ago, because his regular officers were tied up on other calls.
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Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay explains how he got bitten by a suicidal woman when he responded to a call two weeks ago, because his regular officers were tied up on other calls.

Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said Friday he got bit by a woman while stopping her from trying to commit suicide on the railroad tracks in south Wichita.

“I worked a couple Fridays ago and we had a woman who was suicidal on the tracks and a train was coming,” he said.

He said he responded to the emergency himself because “all the officers were tied up down south and your chief of police was the only free guy that was working that night.”

Ramsay said about every month or so, he works at night to stay in touch with his officers on the late shift. He said the incident occurred about 11 p.m.

“She’s in a crisis, has no idea what’s going on, suicidal, and we had a kind of a fight with her,” he said. “She was little; she probably only weighed 110 pounds, but she was, you know, in a different state of mind, screaming.”

He said neighbors heard the commotion and came out to see what was going on, and immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion.

“What I saw that night was like ‘What are you doing to her?’” he said. “Fortunately there was paramedics with me. People like paramedics and fire better than police.

“But they were still worried that we were trying to do something to this female, not knowing that she’s trying to kill herself if we let her go . . . What I found myself was being a little more gentle than I really should have, because I didn’t want to look bad. Do you know what happened? I got bit in the arm.”

Ramsay told the story to the Republican Pachyderm Club on Friday afternoon as an example of the difficulties his officers face in the field on a daily basis.

Ramsay said when he was a street cop years ago, the public would usually give police officers the benefit of the doubt in a scuffle like the one he was in, but that’s changed.

“The expectations of our police today are greater than they’ve ever been — very, very high, beyond human in some cases,” he said. “Our cops now, they all have body cameras. Everything they do is recorded. I don’t know how many of you in here right now would like every second of your work day recorded . . . Heaven forbid they should make an error, because now it could be national news.”

He said he’s also noticed a sizable increase in complaints about police cars speeding or committing other traffic violations.

Most of those cases, he said, can be explained by the need for officers to get somewhere quickly to react to a situation, like he did with the suicidal woman.

“Our officers haven’t changed the way they’re driving,” he said. “They haven’t changed the way they’re driving in the last year, they haven’t changed the way they’re driving from five, 10, 15, 20 years ago. But what has changed is the scrutiny of our cops.”

Another thing that’s changed is that police are expected to be the front line in dealing with issues like homelessness, mental health and substance abuse that used to be handled by social services agencies.

“Kansas has cut thousands of beds — starting in the early ‘90s — for mental health that just aren’t there any more so really it all falls on police,” he said.

The city and Sedgwick County have recently teamed up to test a concept called an Integrated Care Team, deploying a police officer, a paramedic and a mental health specialist together to deal with calls where mental illness is suspected.

The police department has also created a homeless outreach team of four officers that does nothing but try to solve problems for homeless people.

“A lot of that is associated with mental health, or chemical abuse, or both,” Ramsay said. “And the fact that really your Police Department is your homeless helpers, to me there’s something kind of philosophically wrong with that.

“We’re not the best people to be dealing with that. There should be other resources available and other options for folks.”

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.