Police Department Strengthens Community Bonds
During a series of “No Ferguson Here” meetings, citizens expressed anger and disappointment in the way their police force interacted with the community, accusing officers of racial profiling and excessive use of force. As a result of these meetings, key priorities were established, and the police department began restoring relationships with the community members they serve.
In 2014, the events in Ferguson, MO became a focal point for a heated and contentious national conversation over police use of force, especially in minority communities. Wichita was not immune to calls for change. Key figures in Wichita’s minority communities began to mobilize, culminating in a series of local discussions that were branded as “No Ferguson Here.”
During meetings, citizens accused officers of racial profiling and excessive use of force. Families of people who had been killed by local police spoke about the loss of their loved ones, and minorities who felt personally targeted by officers talked about their lack of trust in police. Mothers and fathers of black teens talked about the fear of their child being targeted due to their skin color. Citizens were able to address their city officials directly and ask how they intended to fix these issues.
Despite the tense nature of the initial meetings, eventually, the discussions that occurred at meetings and through social media were able to be categorized into the above-mentioned goals.
The Wichita Police Department has since undergone a significant evolution that was significantly influenced by the “No Ferguson Here” meetings. Part of this process has been equipping all patrol officers with body worn cameras. Additionally, the WPD has secured a grant to equip every patrol sergeant with a body worn camera and the department has made crisis intervention training (CIT) a priority. Approximately, one-third of commissioned officers are certified CIT Officers. While CIT training is ongoing, all commissioned officers receive mental health first-aid training prior to graduating from the Police Academy. In January of 2016, the department’s focus became improving the culture of community policing and creating a civilian review board with the authority to review racial bias complaints and officer-involved shootings.
Perhaps the best example of this focus on improving relationships with the community was a planned protest that turned into a “First Steps Cookout”, with uniformed WPD officers and the citizens they served. Thousands of people, both officers and civilians, gathered at McAdams Park, which sits in a low-income, majority African-American neighborhood. A protest had successfully been turned into a community event. Chief Ramsay participated in an open dialogue, genuinely answering pointed questions from the community and sharing his vision.
Additionally, Chief Ramsay began the development of the “God Squad,” which is a group of African-American religious leaders who meet regularly with members of the WPD to share information and build partnerships. Their goal is to act as a calming voice if tense situations arise and to be mediators between community members and the police. The God Squad serves as a liaison to the African American community.
Chief Ramsey also agreed to create a civilian review board and revamp how police handled youth on the “gang list,” which has been criticized for being too broad and too difficult to be removed from. In 2017, with the help of City Council Member Brandon Johnson, the Wichita Police Department drafted letters to the parents and guardians of minors who were on the active gang list. Each parent or guardian, along with the minor, were given details as to why they were on the list and were offered departmental and community resources to help educate youth on how to get away from gang-related environments. The department also explained how youth could go about taking positive steps to become listed as inactive on the gang list.
Wichita, KS- 2019 AAC Winner: Presentation
Police Chief, City of Wichita