Police, City Hall listening to citizens

City Hall is showing that it’s listening to citizens and stepping up accountability.
City Hall is showing that it’s listening to citizens and stepping up accountability.

By planning to have body cameras on every police officer by the end of 2015, City Hall is showing that it’s listening to citizens and stepping up accountability. It’s also trying to avoid a Ferguson-style conflagration – something no one wants for Wichita.

As welcome as the deadline is the change in tone at the Wichita Police Department that it represents.

Community calls to equip more officers with cameras long were met with halfhearted interest and half measures at City Hall. But just a few months after the retirement of Police Chief Norman Williams and the “No Ferguson Here” public forum at East High School, the city is taking comprehensive action.

The Fraternal Order of Police is on board as well, recognizing that body cameras are a “silent witness” that can “help protect the public from police misconduct and protect the officers from false allegations,” as union president Paul Zamorano put it, while also providing excellent evidence for investigations.

And rather than point to the $1.5 million expense of 450 more cameras as a problem, officials say they are prepared to find the money within the city budget. Come spring, voters should make sure the candidates for mayor and City Council share City Manager Robert Layton’s admirable commitment to the priority.

As Wichita becomes one of the biggest cities in the nation to outfit all of its officers with body cameras, according to Interim Police Chief Nelson Mosley, leaders are moving toward other changes aimed at improving cooperation and communication as officers interact with residents.

The plans outlined by Mosley and Wichita pastor Kevass Harding in a Nov. 9 Eagle commentary and by officials in a Wednesday briefing included an independent review board to look into shootings involving officers. That seems essential; citizens lack confidence in the current panel, overseen by the city manager’s office.

Training for more officers in crisis intervention and in handling mentally ill individuals also seems a wise investment. So does what Mosley and Harding described as a “plan to train every officer in community policing, as well as fair and impartial policing to combat racial profiling concerns.”

As Layton continues a larger assessment of the Police Department, in advance of a search for another police chief, another question presents itself: Is it time again to consider a full or partial consolidation of law enforcement in the city and Sedgwick County? Among the reasons to wonder: the two local governments’ effective merger of code enforcement and encouraging recent efforts to find a new joint law enforcement training center.

In any case, it’s great to see that new community conversations and partnerships are ongoing in the wake of the emotional August forum, which is beginning to look like a positive turning point for a community that had been shaken by fatal encounters between police and citizens in recent years.

If the failure of the citywide sales tax this month found City Hall disconnected from the voters, officials now deserve praise for heeding the public on this important initiative. Public safety will be served, as public trust in police surges.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman