The city of Wichita has a problem with police violence. I say that the city has a problem because these are not isolated incidents, the result of a few “bad eggs”. We have stood outside of city hall to inform the public of the most egregious signs of this problem – the five killings of the past year – and in the process of informing the public, I and others have been told stories of their interactions with the police. In many situations the police act with undue aggression: Many officers draw weapons when they aren’t needed. They fire upon suspects unnecessarily. Many officers train that fire for center mass, rather than aiming for the legs or utilizing their tasers. They act in the capacity of soldiers rather than in the capacity of peace keepers. And then, based upon our interaction with the local government and the police department, the police do what they can to cover up their mistakes and preserve their integrity.
As of right now that integrity is lost. Those who interact with the police, or who have been paying attention to the unfolding of the past years shootings no longer trust the police department. This is bad for the community and for the police department – especially the good police in the police department. If this breach of trust continues we can predict a perpetual tug-of-war which will continue to degrade police and community relations to a point where it won’t matter if a given police officer is actually a good officer. The fact that he wears a badge will be enough to distrust him or her. This mentality must be combatted. The current situation in Anaheim, California should be evidence enough to show why this is an unhealthy attitude that needs to be addressed. The city can address this attitude through three actions which are easily accomplished by this city council. When I previously spoke to you, Mayor Carl Brewer, I was directed towards the law department. From there, I received an email which read:
“…our office generally does not initiate code changes. Most requests for new code provisions or amendments to existing code provisions comes from city staff, are based on changes to state statutes made by the Kansas Legislature or are at the direction of the City Council. I would suggest that you contact the City Clerk to get on the public agenda to discuss your proposed ordinance ideas with the Council. If the Council desires to pursue your suggestions, they can direct our office to do so”
Based on this response I believe that I am addressing – and was addressing – the appropriate authority.
I don’t have the time to go into specifics. So what follows is a general outline of the three actions I propose.
First, the city council needs to move to ensure justice for the victims and their families, The families deserve stricter judiciary proceedings than the review given by our DA. Nola Foulston has not found a single police officer guilty of excessive force in her service.
Second, the city council needs to implement policy changes which will de-incentivize the use of lethal force by police officers. There are times and places where violence is necessitated by the police. But the police, as of now, are using lethal force excessively. Companies, such as Cessna, use a review process when things go wrong and put people on leave without pay to investigate the incident. We need to somehow implement this into the WPD’s policies, or into the city ordinances, for police officers which utilize lethal force to give them an incentive to use non-lethal force.
Lastly, the city council should move to subject police actions to community review by an independent, community-based review board with subpoena powers. In the event of a shooting that review board should meet immediately. The board should not be appointed by City Manager Layton’s office because the community needs to be able to trust the review board. The board should have subpoena power to ensure that information on a given shooting isn’t solely controlled by the police department. Other cities, such as Las Vegas, have a board with subpoena power which reviews complaints and attempts to represent the people’s concerns with the cities policing powers. Having this board outside of the cities appointment would ensure that information released on questionable cases is more balanced, and that people could trust that board to carry out its tasks.
I urge this city council to consider these three actions, and move – within your capacities – to implement them to re-establish trust between the people and the police, and help prevent these tragedies in the future. Thank you.