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Wichita Police Department Responds To Community's Demands For Reform

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Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay says his department and city officials are in the process of responding to specific demands from the community about the department’s policies and procedures.

At a news conference Thursday, Ramsay says the department has received about a dozen requests for changes from various community groups, including the Racial Profiling Advisory Board of Wichita. The requests range from banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants to more training in de-escalation techniques and more transparency.

Ramsay said some of the policies already exist and others are being modified. That includes adding language about some procedures already in use to departmental policy.

"We are very proud of the progress that we’ve been making with the community in building bridges as a police department," Ramsay said. "But we also recognize that our job is far from done and that we still have a lot of work to do."

There is a national push for departments to update or change policies as a result of the death of George Floyd. He died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes while Floyd was handcuffed.

His death sparked protests across the world and has led to departments reviewing their policies. Many groups have called for defunding police departments and using the money to address social problems in low-income areas.

Mayor Brandon Whipple and the Wichita City Council joined Ramsay during Thursday’s news conference. They also are involved in the discussion about police policy.

"One of the main things we wanted to make sure of is that we not only condemn the murder of George Floyd, but that we responded in action," council member Brandon Johnson said.

"So as he (Ramsay) said, we’re definitely not finished. This is just one first step and it is crucial that this continues through the regular meetings and conversations, and we continue to evolve."

The Wichita Police Department posted a "Response to the Community" on its website. It addresses many of the suggestions demanded by the community groups.

Here are some of those suggestions and the Wichita Police Department’s response:

Immediately Defund the Police Department

Ramsay agrees a "comprehensive model for community public safety is needed."

He noted that officers often are left to deal with social issues such as mental health, substance abuse and homelessness. The department endorses a funding plan to "holistically address community safety and human services concerns."

That would include funding for more community policing.

Create a Safe Environment for Police Officers to Report Misconduct by Fellow Officers

Ramsay says the department trains officers about their duty to intervene. It will now add specific language about that to its revised use of force policy.

It will require an officer to intervene if they witness unethical behavior or misconduct by another officer, including use of force.

Revoke Qualified Immunity for Police Officers

The department says it follows the policy of the Major Cities Police Association, which opposes revoking qualified immunity. The association says qualified immunity "does not prevent officers who engage in misconduct from being convicted for criminal offenses."

Increase Transparency Related to Police Officer Discipline and the Use of Force

Ramsay points to his creation of the Wichita Citizen’s Review Board in 2017, which grew out of community discussions. The board offers input to the department on policy development. It can also review police misconduct cases after the cases are decided by the department’s Professional Standards Bureau. The board can’t administer discipline or make public documents related to discipline cases. It also can’t subpoena witnesses.

Ban Choke Holds, Knee Holds and Strangle Holds

The department says it prohibits the use of these techniques unless deadly force is justified to protect the life of the officer or another person.

It has added language to its use of force policy that says "Officers are prohibited from impeding normal breathing or blood circulation by applying pressure to the throat, neck or chest with the use of their knee or other object and while the individual is handcuffed."

Ban No-Knock Warrants

Ramsay says the department generally supports a ban. Right now, they must be approved by a deputy chief.

Ramsay says the warrants are sometimes needed for hostage rescue situations or violent crimes.

Require Warning Shots Before Shooting

Department policy does not allow this; it instead requires a verbal warning. Police think warning shots could endanger other people in the area.

Ban Shootings at Vehicles

Ramsay says the department is adding new language to its use of force policy to prohibit shooting at vehicles. The exceptions would be if someone in the vehicle is using or threatening to use deadly force or the vehicle is being used as a weapon in act of terrorism.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is a board member of the Public Media Journalists Association, serving as small station representative, a volunteer coach for League 42 and an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.