The city of Wichita is starting the process of hiring a new chief for the Wichita Police Department, which includes nearly 900 people. (Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)
The city of Wichita is starting the process of hiring a new chief for the police department, which includes nearly 900 people. (Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)

Update: On March 8, the Wichita City Council approved a contract with Public Sector Search & Consulting, a California-based search firm that focuses on police executives, to lead the city’s effort to find a new police chief. The company said its search process will include community engagement, public forums, focus groups and online surveys.

The contract is $48,000, with up to an additional $10,000 in expenses. 

“They suggested a very robust community engagement process,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “Both on the front end of the process, when we will be determining what the profile is for the ideal candidate, and also on the back end, when the finalists are selected and the community will have an opportunity to visit with those candidates.”

The firm proposed a search timeline of approximately five months, Layton added.

For Pamela Barber, it’s someone who has a great relationship with youth in the community. 

For Jay Fowler, it’s someone who has demonstrated accountable policing in the past.

For Sheila Officer, it’s someone with a sense of diversity and equity.

Every Wichita resident might have an idea of what the perfect police chief looks like. Yet it is ultimately only one person’s job to hire the next leader of the Wichita Police Department. That is City Manager Robert Layton, who will oversee the hiring process after Chief Gordon Ramsay announced in December that he’s departing in March. 

“It’s intended to be a very thorough process and one that is community-informed,” Layton said. “I take this really seriously in terms of the hiring of the police chief and the role that the police chief has in the community.”

The process will likely be “largely similar” to the 2015 hiring process of Ramsay, Layton said. That provided Wichitans the chance to interview the final two candidates in a public forum

But some Wichita residents are hoping for a more thorough community engagement process that involves a wider group of residents — something other cities in the region, including Tulsa, Okla., and Kansas City, Kan., adopted in recent police chief hiring processes.

“Maybe they ought to have a town hall with the community first,” said LaWanda DeShazer, youth adviser for Wichita’s NAACP Youth Council.

Plans for the 2022 hiring process

The first step of hiring the new police chief is contracting with a search firm, Layton said. The city put out a request for proposals to hire one on Jan. 6 with applications due Jan. 31.

The search firm will help the city put together its Police Chief Selection Committee, an advisory board meant to represent broad community interests and criminal justice expertise, Layton said. In 2015, the eight-person search committee had criminal justice experts, representatives from the business community and a member of Wichita’s NAACP chapter.

Layton said the search firm will help advise the city on whom to include on the committee. 

Once the committee is in place, the search firm will work with it to craft a candidate profile with qualities members want to see in an ideal candidate. Layton said this means discussions with a variety of community representatives about what they’re looking for in a police chief.

Layton said the city and the selection committee will help provide the search firm with names of stakeholders that should shape the candidate profile. He’s also considering how potential search firms would allow Wichitans to submit the ideal qualities they want to see in the next chief.

“That’s one of the things I’ll look for,” Layton said. “How do they get feedback from the community as a whole?”

Based on this profile, the search firm will conduct a national search and recruitment process. Then, they narrow the pool to at least 10 semifinalist candidates to present to the selection committee. 

Then the Police Chief Selection Committee will interview the candidates, Layton said. Together, the committee and the search firm, along with Layton and the city’s Human Resources Department, decide who becomes a finalist. In the 2015 selection process, there were two finalists, but Layton said this number can change based on the candidates. 

“Once we get down to the final candidates, the process really opens up more,” Layton said. 

The finalists typically interview with city department directors, members of the police department, and the City Council and mayor, Layton said. In 2015, the city also held public forums with the finalists in which residents could ask questions. This will likely be repeated this year, Layton said. 

Wichitans will be able to share feedback on the candidates after the forums, Layton said. 

The hiring process is also subject to change based on the search firm the city ultimately hires and advice it has for the process, Layton added.

Officers at Wichita Police Department Patrol East on South Edgemoor Street are among 640 commissioned law enforcement personnel at the agency. (Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)

Residents hope to see engagement, transparency

While some stakeholders expressed satisfaction with the hiring process in 2015, others hoped the city of Wichita will do more thorough community engagement as it replaces Ramsay. For some, that means giving opportunities for public input prior to the public forums with the finalists. 

“We do not like being after the fact,” said Sheila Officer, chair of the Racial Profiling Advisory Board of Wichita. “This process is so important that we should be involved in the initiative phase of it as well as the final phase of it.”

Jeff Geoffroy, president of the Wichita Metro Crime Commission, suggested the city seek public input prior to recruiting candidates.

“What you’re saying then is — here’s the Wichita community, here are our needs, here’s what we in particular are looking for in a police chief,” Geoffroy said.

Others pointed to the need for diversity on the Police Chief Selection Committee. Some community activists emphasized the importance of including people who regularly interact with the police. Several also said the committee needs to include people of different ages. 

“Maybe some more of the younger citizens in this community,” said Larry Burks, president of the Wichita chapter of the NAACP.

Pamela Barber, a mother of teenagers and cosmetologist in Wichita, said that she wants to see how the police chief candidates interact with children.

And many discussed the need to investigate the relationships the candidates have with the communities where they’ve worked. 

“If you’re going to look for personnel from outside the city for example, look at what kind of relationships they’ve had with their police department and their community,” said Jay Fowler, chair of the Wichita Citizen’s Review Board.

How other cities hire police chiefs

Other cities in the region included extensive community engagement processes when hiring new police chiefs in recent years. 

Tulsa, which hired a new police chief in January 2020, held community meetings and listening sessions before the interview process began, according to Carson Colvin, communications officer for the city. Prospective candidates and city staff attended the meetings, which were open to the public. 

Kansas City, Kan., hired a new police chief in May 2021. The city conducted a four-month communitywide survey on top priorities in a new police chief before the recruitment process began. The city also held listening sessions with different neighborhood groups and nonprofits prior to recruiting candidates, said Assistant County Administrator Bridgette Cobbins. 

Oklahoma City, which hired a new police chief in July 2019, did not seek community input prior to the recruitment process. The city did hold community meetings before the final set of interviews with the candidates. 

Both Tulsa and Kansas City also included a broad range of community leaders in the interview and assessment processes. 

In Tulsa, a large group of community stakeholders interviewed the final four candidates. That included representatives from the Tulsa Mental Health Association, Hispanic community leaders and the citizens’ crime commission. 

Kansas City put together a 16-person committee with a broad variety of representatives — people from public schools, nonprofits, churches, the sheriff’s office and more.  

That committee witnessed the final four candidates going through an assessment process that simulates stressful scenarios police chiefs may experience. 

“You have to be mindful that after you go through that whole process, you can’t just cut the community off,” Cobbins said. “You still have to continue that dialogue.”

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Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership...