A recent article in The Eagle focused on information and data sets released by the Wichita Police Department. The Police Department began releasing more data last year as part of local government’s transparency goals and to spur community conversation and solutions.
The headline read, “Police more likely to use force against black Wichitans. Chief looks for fixes.” The headline was an example of how a multifaceted issue can be oversimplified and misleading.
Unfortunately, this is why too many in law enforcement are reluctant to talk about these issues. A comprehensive understanding of the issues cannot be gained in a snippet of data. This data can be misrepresented, misinterpreted; it can inflame tensions within the community and police when provided without sufficient context or review of the numbers.
Professor Michael Birzer said in the article, “ … we have to be careful how we read into that, because again, these are all situational and data is usually lacking about the situational context.” Details of police interactions must be taken into account.
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Socioeconomic and racial disparities are real and a substantive issue for all communities. It is challenging to capture the complexities of these issues in a media report or a follow-up opinion piece. Our legislators and community leaders must work with residents to examine and address systemic social disparities and inequities while balancing support for our police.
Too often law enforcement and high-profile police incidents become the flash points for headlines, emotions and social unrest. The city of Wichita, the Wichita Police Department and our officers have always been committed to being a part of the solution and will continue to do so by working with the community to discuss, identify and address identified issues.
Our officers care about our community, but this issue is much bigger than just the police. The Wichita Police Department cannot and should not be expected to solve issues of crime and social disorder without the help of the community. Collectively, we can improve our community, but must stop finger pointing. We must each take responsibility and do our part if we are to make change happen.
Since coming to Wichita and accepting the position of Chief of Police, I often spend time on the street with our police officers. I have observed nothing less than respectful, patient and professional conduct despite frequent difficult and dangerous situations and challenging calls. I am proud of the men and women of the Wichita Police Department and the great work they do each and every day.
It is important that our community examine the root causes of systematic disparities. For example, people of color are both disproportionately victims of violent crime and are reported as suspects in homicides, robbery and felony assaults in Wichita. This disproportionality has a direct correlation on our use-of-force data.
Wichita police officers have always done an excellent job at serving and building relationships in our community, and we continue to have community discussions about this data and how to improve our communities. We need to continue to work together to address these complex and longstanding problems.
Wichita police officers are aware of these issues and the concerns and aim to treat people with dignity, respect and fairness while keeping our community safe.
Gordon Ramsay is Wichita chief of police.