Wichitans on Wednesday received an update from top city officials about recent progress made toward improving relations between the Wichita Police Department and members of the community.
Roughly 200 people met at Century II’s Convention Hall for nearly three hours Wednesday evening for the second meeting of its type held by city and community leaders to hear public concerns surrounding the police force and give residents a forum to ask questions about police policies and accountability. The first meeting, called #NoFergusonHere, was held Aug. 28 and drew 600-plus participants and questions of police procedures on police shootings and body cameras for officers, hiring practices within the department and police transparency and accountability.
On Wednesday, the public continued to demand officers receive crisis invention training, an improvement in community policing policies and for creation of a citizen review board with subpoena power. Some speakers drew cheer and applause, but tensions never rose above an occasional shout or audience member commenting on a response from panelists. Protesters, expected by police, stuck to passing out a few fliers near Century II’s entrance.
Panelists included Wichita Interim Police Chief Nelson Mosley, City Manager Robert Layton, Mayor Carl Brewer and Junius Dotson, pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church.
Some participants said they were angered that there has not been a grand jury called to decide whether to indict Wichita police officers involved in shootings and that the police department has not made quicker strides toward training its officers in how to handle calls involving people with mental illnesses.
Others called for a police force that mirrors the racial makeup of the city.
“We need to include more diversity on our police force,” said Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita.
“We do want to mirror our community,” Mosley replied. He said the department was hiring but had trouble filling current recruit classes, and he urged community members to encourage qualified applicants to apply for police jobs.
“First and foremost we have to look like our community with our police,” he said.
Ida Allen, the mother of the late Icarus Randolph, a 26-year-old Marine veteran diagnosed with PTSD who was shot and killed by police on July 4, called for the department to implement more non-lethal weapons, such as Tasers and bean bags, to deter police killings.
One man asked why police who use excessive force on residents who have already been subdued haven’t been fired. He specifically mentioned officers using Tasers on people who are already lying on the ground. “Most of the cops on the force are good people who I can respect. But we got some bullies and sadists,” he said. “… They got to go.”
Mosley told audience members the city of Wichita “is committed” to outfitting body cameras on all patrol officers by purchasing a 444 cameras to add to the 60 the department already has and seven docking stations, as well as other equipment. He said implementing the cameras would come in four phases: research and planning to be completed by February; buying the equipment, which is slated to be done by June 2015; training officers to use them; and full deployment by Dec. 31, 2015.
The $927,000 needed to purchase the cameras and equipment would come from grant money and cash seized in drug cases. Grounding the police helicopter will pay for the first year of ongoing expenses.
The department also plans to keep on eye on federal funding sought by President Obama to help pay for the cameras, Mosley told the audience, as well as search for other funding sources.
“Cameras aren’t cheap, especially the ones we are trying to get,” Mosley said. “… Our plan is to monitor any federal funding. If that does come through we’re going to keep our ears to the ground and see if we meet the requirements.”
But, he said, regardless of whether federal funding becomes available, “we’re proceeding with … what’s best for our community right now” by buying the cameras.
“There’s still a lot of moving parts to this,” Mosley said.
Addressing another concern brought forward by community members, Mosley said the police department already has secured 20 seats – twice the usual – for police officers at crisis intervention training during the upcoming year. That would add to the 89 officers on the force who have already received the training. He said the department is also exploring training partnerships with the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office for the upcoming year.
Mosley said the department also has plans to renew and refocus efforts on community policing and is exploring all alternatives to the review board currently in place. Both are being discussed as part of the department’s organizational assessment, which is due by the end of this year. Other topics under discussion are a review of policies and procedures, safety training and technology, he said.
“Ultimately what we want is a system that is fair to everyone,” Mosley said of the review board. “To our community and to our officers.”
At the close of the meeting, participants were asked break out into smaller groups and give their ideas on the hiring of a new police chief next year and other issues. The breakout sessions, facilitated by Wichita State University, lasted about 45 minutes, and comments given there would be shared with city and police officials, Mosley said.
He also said the community should not expect Wednesday’s follow-up meeting to be the last of its kind.
“We’re not done. … We want to continue to have open and honest dialogue,” Mosley said. “… This is about enhancing our relationship and this takes us all, not just the police department.”
Mayor Brewer agreed.
The meetings are “the very beginning,” Brewer said. “The next step is implementation. But we must continue to have open, honest dialogue with each other.”
Contributing: Stan Finger of The Eagle