Sunday, October 14, 2018

Crime Reduction Efforts

In 2016, Kansas recorded the most homicides in our states history, causing many of us in the criminal justice system to be deeply concerned. In 2017, Topeka, with a population of 127,000 reported 30 homicides, an all-time high for our state’s capitol. Tulsa, Oklahoma, a city close in population size to Wichita, reported a record 82 homicides in 2016 and another 81 homicides in 2017. In comparison, as of October 2018, Wichita has investigated 40 homicides, with 7 of them being ruled as justifiable. In addition, it is also important to note that WPD homicide detectives have solved over 80% of our cases this year. The national average for solving homicides is 59% and historically, the larger the city, the lower the solvability rate.


Since 2012, violent assaults in Wichita have doubled. One of the major concerns to this trend is that we continue to see guns stolen from cars, homes and businesses each year. Alarmingly, these cases total over 1,000 a year. To put this into perspective, the two shootings of law enforcement officers in Sedgwick County this year involved guns stolen from vehicles.


Those of us in Law enforcement accept that a small number of habitual offenders and illegal drug users and traffickers are behind the majority of our property and violent crime trends. In response to this ongoing concern, our department created Community Response Teams to focus exclusively on drugs, guns, gangs and the habitual offenders who are driving these numbers up. These teams consist of professional, well-trained officers who are focusing on our most violent offenders and active drug traffickers. Our officers are working around the clock to identify and arrest those who are terrorizing our neighborhoods and causing chaos in our community.


Another major focus of our crime reduction strategy involves working closer with our neighborhoods and having officers embrace and employ the community policing philosophy. Officers are meeting and engaging residents, getting to know them and encouraging them to work with us to report suspicious activity, which ultimately, helps prevent and reduce crime. Recently, officers and neighbors have been working together by going door to door in areas that have seen a steady increase in violent crime to encourage others to come forward. It is this effort in working together in partnership and solidarity that encourages others to “say something if they see something” and report crime to the police.


We have also been partnering with youth organizations to provide more opportunities to get our youth off the street and give them safe places to gather and have fun. In partnership with the YMCA, we help with “Late Night,” on Saturday nights for teens to hang out at the south Y and get them off the streets. The results have been very positive and as a result, the YMCA is expanding this program to multiple locations across the City.


We are also partnering with the Boys and Girls Club to find ways to prevent youth from joining gangs. We are working to fund gang prevention efforts to target at-risk youth to reduce the likelihood of them joining a gang.


We’ve partnered with Kansas U.S. Attorney Steve McAlister with Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN); a collaborative approach to public safety that utilizes law enforcement and community partnerships with strategic enforcement efforts to focus on the most violent criminals in the most violent areas within each district. The program's goal is to work together to reduce violent crime and make our communities safer for everyone. The enhanced PSN program builds on past successes and re-invigorates comprehensive enforcement efforts by building on successful programs already in place or, where prior efforts have atrophied, creating new, effective violence reduction programs. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is adding additional prosecutors to assist in this effort.


This violent crime trend in our region demands an increased response from everyone including residents, businesses, non-profit groups and government organizations. Solid research and increased collaboration is needed to answer the question of “what is driving the increase in violent crime?” It is also imperative to stay away from the unproductive trap of finger pointing and blame and continue to strive forward together in partnership to keep our communities safe.

Monday, May 14, 2018


 

An article recently appeared in the Wichita Eagle focusing 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 article headline read “Wichita Police More Likely to Use Force against Blacks.” 

 

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 was quoted in the article related to the numbers reported “we have to be careful how we read into that, because again, these are all about the situational context.”  Details of police interactions must be taken into account.

 

Socioeconomic and racial disparities are real and 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, it seems, 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.  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The frustrating limits of transparency...again

When I arrived in Wichita I committed to increasing transparency and changed practices such as notifying the public as soon as possible when a police officer has been arrested.  Recently, I came across this blog I wrote when I was a chief in Minnesota. It references a serious officer misconduct case from 2012. Today, I feel some of the same frustrations regarding recent WPD issues and what information we can or can’t provide due to labor agreements, the Kansas Open Records Act, active criminal investigations and City policy.  Having served as a chief for nearly 12 years, I have worked diligently and sincerely to be as transparent as allowed by law, policies and union agreements. I will continue this work with the help of WPD partners and other community stakeholders. Following is the blog from when I was chief in Minnesota:
 
The police department is one of the most visible and critiqued areas in local government. Transparency and dissemination of timely information to the public is critical in every corner of the policing world. Dealing with data privacy laws, while trying to be transparent and keeping the community informed, is a tough line for police administrators in Minnesota.
 
One particularly difficult incident occurred a few years ago, when I terminated an employee in a use of force case that received a lot of media attention. Due to Minnesota law I was unable to publicly share that I had terminated the employee. Unfortunately, law forbids releasing employment information until final discipline occurs, which is after the grievance period or arbitration. The only information I could release was previous discipline, employment status and whether it was paid or unpaid. In this case, it was unpaid administrative leave even though the employee had been terminated.
 
Many in the community asked why I did not terminate the employee and were upset the officer's employment status was "administrative leave." Some believed we were not being transparent and I found myself frustrated that I could not talk more openly about what action had been taken. The termination eventually became public when the union dropped its grievance, but it was tough from a community relations standpoint to not speak directly to the matter at the time. The fact the employee was terminated 18 months later was no longer news and the fact the employment status remained “unpaid leave” simmered in many communities.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Yesterday, Sunday, February 12th, off-duty City of Wichita a police officer was  accused of rape by an adult female acquaintance.  The incident was reported to the Wichita Police Department who, in order to avoid any conflicts, requested the investigation be handled by the Sedgewick County Sheriff's Department.  The officer has been employed by the department for four years and has been placed on administrative leave. His police powers have been suspended.  On Sunday evening, the officer was booked by the Sheriff's department for felony rape and charges are pending review by the District Attorney. 



As a police department we are evolving and improving in how we communicate issues when police are alleged to be involved in criminal behavior.  When an officer is arrested, booked or charged for a crime we will communicate with our community and media swiftly, openly and neutrally.



We have the highest standards of conduct and were disappointed to learn about this incident. Unfortunately, policing is sadly unique in the sense that when one officer engages in misconduct, it reflects poorly on our entire profession.



 We treasure our trusted and close relationship with our community and while we respect everyone’s right to due process under law, I can’t help but be very disturbed by the nature of this allegation and in no way should this reflect on the good people of our department.



I will refrain from further comment on this case while the wheels of the system engage. 



 The Sheriff and I have been working for the last eight weeks on an agreement whereby the Sheriff's Department would investigate all Wichita Police officer involved criminal cases and vice versa. The agreement is intended to alleviate conflict of interest concerns and bring more credibility to the criminal investigation process. We were going to announce the agreement later this week, but due to this incident we are announcing it now. 



It is one of the first such agreements involving a major city of which we are aware and believe this will be a good practice as our profession evolves and improves.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Discretion and Policing

I often discuss the importance of officers using good discretion in their daily work. When I refer to using discretion, I am referring to petty and minor violations, not crimes of violence, where victims are concerned or of serious or dangerous nature.  An example of a discretionary act was when an elderly driver pulled out of a parking lot at dusk and had forgot to turn on her headlights on. When I pulled her over, she immediately realized her error.  She had a good driving record and was clearly aware of her mistake, so I decided a warning was the best way to handle this situation.

I was recently asked if we have a written matrix officers can use to help in their decision making process in the use of discretion. The reality is that there are a multitude of discretionary scenarios officers face daily involving minor violations that it is impossible to cover every situation. So how do we decide what to do? 

The Wichita Police Department prioritizes hiring educated, bright, problem-solving police officers who are capable of working through difficult, complex and often life threatening situations.  These officers are then put through rigorous and thorough training. First, in order to be a Wichita Police officer they are required to attend The Wichita Police Academy which is 26 weeks long- 14 weeks longer than the regular 12 week Kansas State Academy. During that training discretion, problem solving and critical thinking is taught and discussed.  After the training academy, the officer then has an additional three months of training with individual training officers where laws, values, mission and vision of the department are further learned.

When I taught new recruits discretion, we would discuss the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law and the importance recognizing the difference. An example of this is while we legally could ticket people for going one mile per hour over the speed limit we don't. The spirit of the law is to manage traffic flow and keep people safe. 

 From time to time I hear from citizens about tickets they've received for minor violations they felt were petty and unnecessary.  Often the theme of the complaint is that the police action taken was antagonistic and unnecessary.  One of the recent complaints involved a license plate light that worked but wasn't visible within the required distance and another came from a citizen to an elected official where they were cited for not immediately turning into the closest lane after making a right turn.  Neither caused and accident or were associated with causing danger.  I share these examples to show how the issuance of minor tickets concern citizens and elected officials.
Discretion goes beyond just traffic enforcement. As I work to advance our organization's values I recently spoke to our latest recruit class about the use of discretion when dealing with youth.  It is my expectation of our police to find opportunities to interact positively with youth and serve as good role models in their life.  When kids are testing boundaries or involved with minor violations, whenever possible and practical, officers should guide, coach, mentor and divert them from the criminal justice system. 

Don't get me wrong, I still go out and patrol the streets and like to catch bad guys victimizing our good citizens.  I like to take law enforcement action when people are driving recklessly and putting others in danger.  The discretion I am talking about is about minor violations where, through a warning, we feel we can change behavior.  

I see discretion as one of the most powerful tools in an officer's tool belt. Using the hammer for minor violations can create an antagonistic relationship. As the old adage goes, "if we believe the only tool we have is a hammer, you will treat everything like a nail."  Our best officers consistently use good discretion and by doing so they are able to make positive, lasting impacts on the people's lives they serve. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Social media: the good, the bad and the untold


Social media:  the good, the bad and the untold

Facebook and other social media have proven to be useful tools in the animal world – connecting many unwanted pets with welcoming forever homes.  Nextdoor.com has been used to help solve neighborhood crime.  Social media has also proven useful in holding people and institutions accountable for their responsibilities. However, it is also possible to misuse these social tools, to lose sight of facts and fairness, and in the zeal of rescue, to be disrespectful and just plain mean.  This, of course, is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, some well-meaning animal lovers recently have crossed over that line, posting some inaccurate and unduly hostile items about Wichita Animal Control staff and members of the Animal Control Advisory Board. 

Consider these facts before rushing to judgment:

FACT: City of Wichita Departments don’t have staff devoted to monitoring social media 24-hours-a-day in order to respond to and correct inaccuracies and tell the other side of every story.  Thus, situations are often misrepresented by a single storyteller, because even if they contain some facts, they only tell a portion of the story.  

FACT: The Wichita Animal Shelter has one of the lowest dog euthanasia rates in the country. It was only 8% in 2015, and the rate for the first 10 months of 2016 is 7%. The ASPCA estimates the national average at around 31%.  It would appear to be in everyone’s best interest to work together to improve this rate even more.

Here are some more facts about two cases in point:

  1. A story was recently posted on social media regarding an underweight Malamute, accusing Wichita Animal Services of not taking action.  There were photographs included that would have moved even the hardest heart.  But, as is often the case, there is more to the story.  Animal Services Officers investigated this situation and learned that a stray dog had jumped the fence and impregnated the female Malamute.  Sadly, she suffers from a serious dietary condition for which she is under a vet’s care and has to be on a special diet.  The birth of the puppies and their nursing further exacerbated the mother’s condition.  The Animal Services Officer entered the residence and examined the prepared raw food for the mother dog’s diet as prescribed by the Vet.   Additionally, the Officer contacted the Veterinary Clinic where the dog is being treated and confirmed the information that the owner provided.  Animal Services also educated the owner on the City ordinances regarding breeding dogs and selling puppies. 
     
  2. Another heart wrenching story was shared about a dog that was put to sleep, portraying Animal Services staff as “ruthless killers.”  When in fact, a diverse group of animal rescues regularly pull animals from the City Animal Shelter.  Some of the rescues are breed specific, some take animals that have extensive medical needs and solicit money from the public to help defray the cost; other rescues only pull animals with minimal health issues in order to make their dollars stretch and save more animals.  Regardless of how each rescue chooses to operate, it is imperative that they tag the animals that they want to pull from the Shelter in a timely manner.  If the animal isn’t tagged, it will be humanely euthanized as the City cannot hold animals indefinitely.  If a rescue doesn’t tag an animal, then it’s unfair to blame Shelter staff when it is later euthanized. 

Facebook and other social media can be useful tools in the hands of public servants, pet lovers and animal rescue activists – but only if these tools are used responsibly. The opinions, feelings, and information shared must be fair to all concerned, and align with the facts.  There’s an old adage, “It doesn’t matter how thin you make the pancake, it still has two sides.” The same is true here. 

Experts advise Internet users to carefully examine the credibility of all online information. In other words, when you see something posted online, it’s a good practice to test it before swallowing it whole.  Consider the story being told, and ask yourself what might be left untold?

 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Growing Up In A Police Family

I still like to get out and work the street at night and have been doing it regularly since arriving here in January.  My family arrived this summer as my kids turned age six and nine.  I've been a police chief longer than my nine year old has been alive, so their experience has been solely with me in that role.  My daughter has never expressed much interest in my work and we're careful not to watch the news in their presence. While showing strong support for police, I've always been careful to not create a reason for my kids to worry about me.




Recently, I've noticed a change in my nine year old in regard to my profession.  It began with her consistently asking me what time I will be home from work and narrowing down where I will be and what I will be doing.  On a recent Friday night when I mentioned I was going into work, she pled with me to stay home.  She didn't say why she wanted me to stay home; she didn't have to. I could see sadness and worry in her face. It was apparent to me she was worried for my safety. She learned I will not be the administrator sitting behind a desk, but a first responder to dangerous situations. 




This was the first time I had experienced what countless police families have faced; the fact your child now understands the dangers of police work and what can happen in our line of work.  It was a feeling I will never forget as my mind wandered to police friends with kids and how all of them experienced this at some point. 




Later that night, I was clearing a civil dispute when I was called by my wife.  She told me my daughter was now asleep after crying hysterically because she was worried about me being hurt by a "bad guy."  My daughter is growing up fast and now realizes the dangers of this noble profession.




Here's more of what I'm talking about....Take a look at this story and video.  http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/family-slain-officer-douglas-barney-goodbye-hero-article-1.2510826


or if the video doesn't load


https://www.facebook.com/fox13newsutah/videos/vb.75831650585/10153858966500586/?type=2&theater