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A new three-year union contract for the Wichita Police Department includes pay raises and retention bonuses, but critics say it fails to address demands for improving transparency around police misconduct.
The contract with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) will cost the city at least $9 million more than budgeted, in part to fund salary increases of up to 4% and $1,000 retention bonuses over the next three years. The City Council unanimously approved the contract in December after allowing one week for public viewing.
“We’re getting it backwards. The city is approving this contract and the citizens of Wichita know nothing about what they’re getting,” said Sheila Officer, chair of the Racial Profiling Advisory Board of Wichita.
AlmaAnn Klaassen-Jones — an advocate for the family of Andrew Finch, who was killed by a Wichita police officer in 2017 — said she felt disappointed the contract was approved without improving accountability around the disciplinary process for officers.
“I do believe that when an officer has to unholster his gun and fire it, we want to know why,” she said. “We want the Citizen’s Review Board to be able to look through those personnel files, look at the body camera footage, tell us what happened, and agree on consequences.”
Klaassen-Jones joined Dominica Finch, Finch’s sister, at the Dec. 14 council meeting to raise their concerns about the contract before the City Council approved it.
New contract targets ‘underpaid’ police employees
The new contract covers 640 commissioned positions in the Wichita Police Department (WPD), including police officers, and offers raises of up to 4% in 2022. Pay increases of up to 2.5% and $1,000 retention bonuses are included for 2023 and 2024.
The department’s $102.36 million budget for 2022 — up from $99.69 million in 2020 — funds 893 positions, including 696 law enforcement jobs. Most of the police department employees not included in the FOP agreement are covered by a contract with the Service Employees International Union.
In December, the City Council also approved a new three-year contract with SEIU that covers 784 employees across several agencies, including the police department. That agreement includes a 4% pay raise, $1,000 retention bonuses for current employees who worked between March 2020 and March 2021, and a minimum wage of $15 per hour.
Both contracts added Juneteenth as a holiday.
City Manager Robert Layton said the police department lags in average pay when compared to other similarly sized cities in the Midwest.
“We were underpaying our police employees,” Layton said.
How 2021 police wages compare in cities along the I-35 corridor The highest base hourly wage a police officer with 20 years of experience could earn. (The top wage in Wichita increased to $37.11 in 2022.) • Oklahoma City, Okla. $31.08 • Wichita $34.15 • Tulsa, Okla. $38.46 • Kansas City, Kan. $39.55 • Des Moines, Iowa $44.17 • Fort Worth, Texas $45.45 Source: Wichita City Treasurer Mark Manning, Assistant City Manager Donte Martin
Layton said the city expects funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and tax revenue to cover the increased costs of the new police contract. The city received $72.4 million in ARPA funds but hadn’t spent any of it by early December.
“Part of the money fulfillment is using some ARPA funds, another part of it is that our revenues have recovered a little better during COVID than we anticipated,” Layton said. “We are projecting between those two sources of better-than-anticipated revenue and the ARPA we will be able to fund three years.”
City Treasurer Mark Manning said the city could use a portion of the $52.4 million in ARPA funds allocated for internal needs to help fund the police contract.
But Officer said the city could use the funds paying for the higher cost of the new police contract to instead prioritize social services.
“Do you know what $9 million over a three-year period could help in the community?” she said.
“They chalk-walked the homeless downtown. There are so many empty buildings. Use that to create a transient place to get the homeless out of the elements,” she added. “What could $9 million do to close the inequality gap in our education system?”
Layton said the police department needs additional resources to address unique challenges.
“I never thought the ‘Defund the Police’ term did justice to the issues that were discussed when we were involved in the police reform movement,” Layton said.
The city manager’s office, Fraternal Order of Police, Citizen’s Review Board (CRB) and the Racial Profiling Advisory Board were all involved in negotiations for the new FOP contract.
New emergency plan increases wages
The FOP contract includes an Emergency Mobilization Plan, which expedites the deployment of law enforcement during emergency situations, such as severe weather or civil unrest. The plan “appropriately compensates” employees during such an event, according to Layton. He, along with the police chief, can trigger the plan.
Layton said racial justice protests in 2020 stressed police staffing.
“We just wanted to make sure the community was safe during that time, including the protesters,” Layton said. “Because that was an extraordinary event, we had to call people in that normally wouldn’t be working. We need to appropriately compensate folks when you have that extraordinary event.”
Barriers to police accountability
Untouched from prior contracts, all police disciplinary records are still confidential and kept from the public in the new FOP agreement.
Currently, the Citizen’s Review Board can review use of force or misconduct complaints after the police department’s Professional Standards Bureau determines them as unfounded or sustained. A decision to review comes at the request of the police chief or a citizen involved in the claim.
“Our mission is to provide more transparency into the process,” said Jay Fowler, the CRB’s chair.
However, a 2017 ordinance bars the board from publicizing its findings. The CRB can only announce whether it supports or opposes the decision of the Professional Standards Bureau.
Officer criticized the board’s lack of formal authority.
“They do not have very much input or really, impact, into what’s basically done after the decision is made from the Professional Standards Bureau,” Officer said.
The city manager selects members of the 13-member Citizen’s Review Board. It currently has two vacancies and is one of several city boards and commissions with unfilled seats.
The city manager’s office and the CRB plan to convene in January to discuss amending the ordinance. The change could allow the board to issue public reports and alert a person in advance of their case review. The mechanism does not currently exist.
Layton said the city may also consider changing how CRB members are selected.
“If we are in agreement with the language of the ordinance, we would take it to council after that,” he said. “I would guess probably February.”
Klaassen-Jones said Layton’s commitment to amending the ordinance shows progress.
“It was good that he said it on the record,” she said. “It will take a lot to actually get him to come to the table and have those discussions in the first place.”
“The Finch case has been going on for four years and we’ve been begging for this sort of thing,” she added.
Officer said the police contract also favors officers accused of misconduct.
“It does nothing but give the police department more power, more privileges than us regular citizens. And we’re paying their salary. How does that work out?” Officer said.
As laid out in the contract, accused officers know who they will be questioned by, are granted a union representative during questioning, get breaks whenever requested (including meals, calls and rest periods), and have the option to get paid during disciplinary proceedings.
An accused officer also has access to details of the misconduct accusation, including the names and addresses of all witnesses.
Klaassen-Jones said the lack of changes in the contract upholds a yearslong devotion to secrecy and protecting officers accused of misconduct.
“We can’t allow the FOP to have so much power. We have to allow the community to have a voice in all of this,” she said.
The Fraternal Order of Police did not respond to requests for comment.