Monday, November 5, 2018

A Safe Place to Be


October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
by Kit Lambert of StepStone and Gordon Ramsay Wichita Police Chief

A Safe Place to Be

The following survivor’s story is being retold with her permission. All names and some details have been changed for the safety of our survivor and her children.

3 year old Gage, “Mommy, are we going to that safe place?” 

Kate, “Yes, baby, yes, we are. We are going to that safe place.” (Kate and her children have been in shelter before.)

Since 1995, StepStone has been providing transitional housing and supportive services for survivors of domestic violence. Last year, StepStone provided housing for over 100 women and children and outreach services for over 700 women, men, and children.

Kate, “Please tell that officer thank you. She saved my life. I need to do this for my kids. We have a chance to make a fresh start.”

As first responders, the Wichita Police Department is responsible for over 16,000 domestic violence related calls a year, more than 1,000 a month.

“Hey, buddy, what would you like for Christmas?”

8 year old Max, “Nothing. I just want them to stop fighting.”

Last year, the two domestic violence shelters, the Wichita Family Crisis Center and Harbor House each provided  shelter for over 300 women, men and children and outreach services for over 1,000 individuals. They had to turn away over 40 survivors a month due to capacity issues.

Kate, “I need to talk to you. I know that Jake is not supposed to be here but I need to get the kids to daycare and school and I have to go work and he has a car. The bus does not run after 6 or on Sundays.  As soon as I get my tax return, I am going to buy a car and won’t need him anymore. Jake says we should get back together and we would work things out. Do we have to leave here?”

The #1 reason why a woman cannot leave a domestic violence relationship is due to finances.

4 year old Molly, “This is a safe place and my daddy is not a safe person. He told us we were coming home with him.”

Max, “Why is my daddy so mean? When I become a daddy, I am not going to be mean.”

The Wichita Police Department is a key community partner in our effort to end domestic and sexual violence. Their officers regularly attend trainings, work with advocacy groups and implement best practices to ensure victim safety is at the forefront of their response.

“What happened?”

Sergeant A, “She told him he could not be around anymore so he forced his way in and spent the last 24 hours holding her hostage and ….. She is currently at the hospital getting an exam. It was bad. We have him, though. He told us he knew he could not be here but that everything was consensual.”

It is now 1:00 a.m.

Kate, “I’m so sorry. I let this happen to me. I should have known better.”

Every day, an average of 3 women are killed by a current or former intimate partner.

Kate, “They really miss him. He is their dad. He keeps trying to get a hold of me from jail. He’s called my mom to pass messages to me.  Did you know he sent Molly a letter? She can’t even read!”

Batterers can continue to violate protection orders, even while incarcerated.

“Aren’t you excited that you are getting ready to graduate from StepStone? You all have done so great!”

Max, “No, not really. This is the only safe place that we have ever lived. I never want to leave here but I also know other kids also need to be here.”

Domestic violence and sexual assault services will be greatly reduced without continued funding. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) helps to provide protections as well as funding to support survivors like Kate and her children. Contact your legislatures and ask them to reauthorize VAWA. Help protect our families from violence.

Officer A, “Hey, I am glad I ran into you. How is that family doing? I think about them a lot. That call was really bad. Sometimes, I check on the case to see where it’s at. I hope he gets a lot of time for what he did. I hope that mom and the kids are doing okay.”

Police officers truly care for victims of domestic and sexual violence. These calls also impact them. Everyone is affected by domestic and sexual violence.

Kate, “He finally pled. Max and I don’t have to testify against him. I don’t know why I was expecting him to apologize to me. The kids don’t ask for him anymore. He got a lot of time but he is still going to get out eventually. The worst thing is that he is their dad and he did this to me.”

This year, we have had 6 domestic violence homicides. If you suspect someone is in a domestic violence relationship, let them know that you are there and that you believe them. Volunteer your time.  Make a donation. Contact your legislatures to strengthen laws to hold offenders accountable.

“What would have happened to me if the police had not been called? I would be dead. I’m so grateful that police officer told me she was afraid for my safety and did what she did so we could be safe that night. The kids are so much happier now and for the first time in a long time, I am not in constant fear.”

How can we help those who have done wrong succeed in the future?


As a board member of The Council for State Governments Justice Center, we have been focusing on what successful re-entry looks like and how we can help those who have wronged in the past be successful....Here is a news release on our latest efforts.


New Web Tool Provides Look at Often-Overlooked Legal, Regulatory Restrictions Against People who have Criminal Convictions

NEW YORK, NYOct. 31, 2018—Collateral consequences are penalties buried in various laws that can limit or prohibit people convicted of crimes from finding work, accessing housing, and otherwise impact their rights and benefits that can help them to rebuild their lives.

 

The new National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction resource, launched today by the National Reentry Resource Center and The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, compiles thousands of state and federal statutes into a searchable database, making it easier to identify these obscure regulations that can be triggered by a particular conviction.

 

“When a person leaves prison or jail, it is critical that they be given an opportunity to succeed,” said Justice Michael Boggs of the Georgia Supreme Court. “Public safety is improved by ensuring successful reentry. However, there are more than 40,000 provisions in state and federal law that stand in their way right out of the gate. The first step to making meaningful change is understanding these barriers. This resource does just that, and it provides the information in a way that’s easy to navigate.”

 

Collateral consequences create a range of impediments to a person’s successful reentry into society, which includes restricting access to education and housing, depending on the state and the conviction. More than half of these consequences of conviction also affect employability, either directly or by creating barriers to obtaining occupational licenses for certain jobs. About half of these employment-related consequences—which most prominently impact industries like healthcare, child and elder care, education, finance and transportation—are mandatory and must be imposed where a person has been convicted of a disqualifying offense.

 

“It’s amazing how, in the midst of helping people reenter society, we’re often flying blind when it comes to understanding some of things they’re up against. A lot of the time, the people who are responsible for the enforcement of these regulatory sanctions aren’t even aware of them,” said John Wetzel, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. “This database launched today gives us a clear view into these obstacles in each state, which will help us navigate the reentry process and, in some cases, could lead to policy change.”

 

The website, which will be maintained by the CSG Justice Center and is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, offers a database that is searchable by relevant components of the consequence including offense categories, fields of employment, and jurisdiction. The website also offers additional news and resources related to reentry.

 

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About the CSG Justice Center

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. It provides practical, nonpartisan advice and evidence-based, consensus-driven strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities. For more information about the CSG Justice Center, visit www.csgjusticecenter.org.

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.