Crime & Courts

Fender bender during rush hour? The wait for a Wichita police officer may get shorter

Wichita police officer injured after suspects ram patrol car

Wichita police Lt. Ronald Hunt said two suspects were arrested on suspicion of felony crimes after they "intentionally rammed" into an officer's patrol car, which may have broken his hand. (Jan. 15, 2018)
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Wichita police Lt. Ronald Hunt said two suspects were arrested on suspicion of felony crimes after they "intentionally rammed" into an officer's patrol car, which may have broken his hand. (Jan. 15, 2018)

Wichita police have a plan to respond faster to minor traffic accidents: They’ll stop sending commissioned officers to every wreck.

The department is adding six non-commissioned officers to respond to more “customer service” type of 911 calls, Police Chief Gordon Ramsay told the Wichita police Citizen’s Review Board last month. They will be called community service officers and will go through less training than sworn officers.

It’s the first phase of hiring at the Wichita Police Department in response to a staffing study from two years ago.

“One of the big complaints I have received, particularly on Friday evenings from 4 to 6, is the amount of our response time to car crashes,” Ramsay told the review board. “These CSOs ... what they do is they go and find those crashes and write them out quickly, not requiring a commissioned officer.

“So these CSOs will be responding to police incidents where you don’t need a commissioned officer: traffic crashes, dog calls, crimes that are no longer in progress, minor non-violent crimes. They will help us with our response times getting to calls.”

City officials were told in 2017 that a staffing study found the department needed 73 new positions. The proposal called for 49 commissioned officers and 24 non-commissioned support jobs. The plan suggested turning over to civilian personnel some of the work done by officers.

The city’s budget this year added $3.4 million in annual funding for 32 new positions at the police department.

This first phase of hiring calls for 21 sworn staff, including six detectives, two sergeants and 13 patrol officers. It calls for hiring an additional 11 non-commissioned staff, including the six community service officers and five crime analysts.

The police department’s new positions were financed by shifting money away from a fund for capital improvement projects, The Eagle previously reported.

Six new community safety officers, or CSOs, have been hired and are going through nine-week training, police spokesman Officer Charley Davidson said. Five more non-commissioned officers would be hired in the second of three phases,

The staffing study called for 11 new community service officers to work first shift and primarily respond to non-injury accidents, burglary reports and abandoned vehicle cases. Those three types of reports combined for nearly 11,000 calls for service the year before the study was prepared and represented over 12,000 hours of handling time — approximately 10 percent of all hours spent by patrol officers handling cases.

By having non-commissioned officers respond to these calls, police should have more commissioned officers available for emergency calls, Davidson said.

The community service officers will have body cameras, but they won’t have weapons, the police chief said. They must follow the same police policies as commissioned officers. They will dress in gray with a patch that says “service officer,” drive pickups and remove debris or roadkill from city streets.

They will be able to write traffic and parking tickets, but they cannot make arrests. A commissioned officer must be called if an arrest is to be made, Davidson said.

The new community service officers will not be certified through the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training and won’t go through the same academy as commissioned officers. Instead, they’ll go through a special in-service training program before doing field training with an officer.

Most community service officers will be paid less than sworn police officers. The annual salary range for a CSO is approximately $36,600 to $56,000. The pay range for a commissioned patrol officer is about $48,200 to $68,100.

Wichita police used to have a similar position but lost its traffic service officers to budget cuts in 2001.

Ramsay said the department was understaffed by about 40 or 50 people from its authorized strength when he came to Wichita. He wants a fourth phase of hiring after the three phases planned now.

“That (staffing study hires) was to get us where we need to be, (but) not at an optimum level,” Ramsay said. “Ideally, we want to be fully engaged in community policing. And that is having officers on foot and on bike, meeting with neighbors when there aren’t crises going on.”

The department added 30 officers on Friday when a recruit class graduated. An additional 30 recruits have started in a new class, and they would put the department up to about five officers short of its authorized strength, he said.

The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office is added 16 deputies at Friday’s graduation, a news release said. The 46 total new deputies and officers were part of a combined academy class that went through 24 weeks of basic training, and the law enforcement officers have now begun several weeks of field training with veteran deputies and officers.

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