A Wichita police officer during shift change at the department's substation near the intersection of East 21st and North Hillside streets. (Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)

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If you’ve been mistreated by local law enforcement, there are avenues you can take to file a complaint against a police officer.

The Professional Standards Bureau of the Wichita Police Department investigates allegations of misconduct against the department and its staff.

The department’s website encourages citizens to report allegations of misconduct to an officer’s bureau commander or immediate supervisor. But residents can instead submit their complaint directly to the Professional Standards Bureau. 

Residents can file an online complaint (or compliment) or call 316-268-4256 to schedule an in-person appointment. A member of the Professional Standards Bureau will then privately meet with a resident to conduct a taped interview and gather relevant evidence, according to the department’s online instructions.

Officer Charley Davidson, a police department spokesperson, created new buttons on Wichita police’s Reimagining Policing page to easily direct residents to the complaint form. Before the change, residents had to dig around for access.

“I’m working on that to make it a little bit easier to find,” he said. “We’ve added a few things to try to be more open and transparent.” 

Wichita police complaints: From safety violations to excessive force

Over 225 complaints have been lodged against the Wichita Police Department in 2021, according to statistics through July. Police shared the data with The Wichita Beacon and routinely provide it to the Citizen’s Review Board. The number includes complaints filed internally by members of the department and external ones from the public.

Complaints are classified into five categories: unnecessary force, excessive force, improper conduct, procedural violation or safety violation. Allegations are further divided into several subcategories, such as failure to show officer identification, discrimination, rude conduct or accidental firearm discharge.

“If you go down to subclassifications, there are all kinds of complaints. From wrecking your car to rude conduct, mishandling evidence and being late to work,” said Jay Fowler, chair of the Citizen’s Review Board.

The Citizen’s Review Board, a group of a dozen people appointed by the city manager, works with the department to develop policies and reviews complaints of misconduct after they are closed. Its monthly meeting offers the board and community members a chance to respond to complaints and concerns about police conduct. 

“We can make recommendations to the chief of police or the city,” Fowler said. “The department has been responsive, and generally we’ve been very comfortable with the decisions made by the chief and Professional Standards.” 

Board members can access information about complaints and serve recommendations, but ultimately the board can’t control how a case is resolved by the Professional Standards Bureau. 

How are Wichita police complaints resolved?

Based on guidelines published by Wichita police and documents reviewed by The Wichita Beacon, here’s a step-by-step guide to what should happen after you file a complaint.

  • The Professional Standards Bureau will acknowledge your complaint with a letter
     
  • The case will be assigned to an investigator in the bureau within five business days, who will meet you to conduct a recorded interview
     
  • It may take up to 30 days for the complaint to be investigated — but it can go longer depending on the severity of an allegation 
     
  • Once a case is closed by the bureau, a resident will receive a letter of disposition
A draft letter generated by the police department when it finds there isn’t enough evidence to prove or disprove a misconduct allegation. If police sustain an allegation, they rule there’s enough evidence to support the misconduct allegation. Click for the full letter.

There are nearly a dozen ways a complaint can be closed or addressed by the Professional Standards Bureau.

Wichita police may determine a complaint is unfounded, meaning an allegation is judged to be false. Or the department  may acknowledge the incident occurred but was “lawful and proper,” which is referred to as an exonerated conclusion.

The police department’s resolution of a complaint can be appealed to the Citizen’s Review Board. 

“The police have been very engaged with us,” Fowler said. “If someone feels the department got it wrong, they can ask (the board) to review it. They can let any of us know.” 

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Lugli is a community watchdog reporter at The Wichita Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member.