Editor’s note: Faith Martin and Harvey Sorensen are donors to The Wichita Beacon. Michael Birzer is a member of The Wichita Beacon’s Community Advisory Board. View a list of our financial supporters here.
As the Wichita Police Department reels from a scandal regarding racist text messages sent by Wichita police officers and faces a lawsuit accusing it of playing a role in a Black teenager’s death, the city is searching for a new police chief.
The city began the search process in May, after former chief Gordon Ramsay announced his departure in December. After hiring a search firm, the city appointed 11 community members to a search committee.
The group will help determine the candidate profile — what the city is looking for in the next police chief — as well as interview candidates once they’re selected.
“Our review board is made up of a very diverse group of people,” said Jeff Geoffroy, president of the Wichita Metro Crime Commission. “…No one’s going to get everything they want, but what we’re going to try to do is get the best consensus for the city.”
The Wichita Beacon spoke with seven of the 11 members of the WPD Police Chief Search Review Committee about what they’re looking for in a police chief. Most said they want a candidate with a solid track record of working with their community and continuing their education.
The other four committee members did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
‘Trust in the community has got to be near the top’
Five of the seven committee members The Wichita Beacon spoke with emphasized that they want police chief candidates with experience in and commitment to building community relationships and trust.
“I think trust in the community has got to be near the top,” said Harvey Sorensen, a senior partner at the Foulston Siefkin law firm. “Demonstration that you have the ability to accumulate and build community trust will be very important.”
Sorensen said it’s important for the search committee to examine what sort of relationship the applicant and their police department cultivated with their own community.
To achieve trust from the community, a candidate must have demonstrated transparency and accountability, said Faith Martin, a representative of the Racial Profiling Advisory Board. That’s important to Larry Burks, president of the Wichita branch of the NAACP, and Michael Birzer, a professor of criminal justice at Wichita State University, too. Both said they want candidates with experience addressing police misconduct or racism — like the racist text messages recently reported in the Wichita Police Department — in a way that keeps the community informed.
“If there’s police misconduct, calling it for what it is and making sure that the proper justice is delivered to police officers,” Burks said. “(They) need to be able to do that and be very transparent about it and communicate the same to the community.”
Six committee members said connecting with the community would be either the first or second most important priority for police chief candidates.
Five committee members also emphasized they want candidates who prioritize building trust and morale within the Wichita Police Department.
“Before you even talk about going into the community, he has to get the trust and confidence of his own police force,” Geoffroy said.
‘Continuing education is always critical’ for Wichita police chief candidates
All seven committee members said they want candidates with extensive law enforcement experience, and six said they want a commitment to continued learning — whether through a graduate degree or special law enforcement training.
“I’m looking for someone that’s always growing their experiences and looking to stay up to date in their career field,” Martin said. “Someone who has stopped learning, I will not consider them a viable candidate.”
Committee members had different opinions on what that might look like. Martin and Birzer said they’d love a candidate with a graduate degree — even in social work, Birzer added.
“I think if we can learn some of the things that social workers do, a lot of those things are very similar to what police could do working in communities,” Birzer said.
Burke and Geoffroy mentioned they wanted candidates trained at the FBI National Academy, a top-tier law enforcement training program.
Some, not all, mentioned diversity and inclusion
A few committee members — Martin, Ariel Rodriguez and Monique Garcia — emphasized the importance of a candidate’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“It’s important to continue diversifying the WPD with officers that reflect the demographics of the community,” Garcia wrote in an email to The Wichita Beacon.
Birzer said he would like to see “a diverse leader in terms of race/ethnicity or LGBTQ.”
Other committee members said they wanted candidates with communication skills and integrity who have experience building a team and value fairness.
The majority of committee members The Wichita Beacon spoke with said they did not have a strong opinion on whether the candidate should come from inside the Wichita Police Department, with most saying they would reserve judgment until meeting the candidates.
Next steps for Wichita police chief search
Every resident can give feedback to the city of Wichita on what they want in a new police chief.
A community input survey is open until June 27.
Residents can also share their thoughts on Forum, a community engagement platform run by the city.
The city plans to post the police chief position and begin nationwide recruitment by late June, finishing up the search by this fall.
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