Q&A: Interim Wichita Police Chief on mental health calls, no-knock warrants and more
Interim Wichita Police Chief Lemuel Moore took over the job at the beginning of March.
Lemuel Moore was promoted to serve as the Wichita Police Department’s deputy chief at the beginning of 2022.
Weeks later, he was asked to be the interim chief after Gordon Ramsay left the department. It wasn’t until he heard a sermon at church that Moore was sure of himself in his new role.
“I'm up in the balcony,” Moore said. “He doesn't have a clue what I'm talking about or what I'm going through in my life. But one of his sermons that he talked about, he says… ‘Fear leads to faith and then faith … destroys fear.’ And that's exactly what happened that weekend.”
Moore sat down with KMUW’s Kylie Cameron to talk about what his role as interim chief will look like, the department's continued emphasis on community policing and how his interest in law enforcement began through a chance encounter in 1990 while serving in the Marine Corps.
The interview was edited for length and clarity.
Kylie Cameron: Where did your interest in policing begin?
Lemuel Moore: My initial love was to move into the medical field. I wanted to be a nurse, but on the way over to McConnell during a lunch break – chow hall — ran into a WPD member that was on the bus and he explained a little bit to me about police work.
Police work had never crossed my mind. Never been an interest of mine; had family members that had done time in prison and sometimes in trouble with the law. Me, myself, never interacted with an officer at all in my entire life, but after speaking with him … law enforcement was … a career that I wanted to pursue.
What kind of role are you hoping to take in the next couple of months as interim chief?
Over the next few months, my goal is to continue to build a rapport in the community and to work on different issues that have been brought up … within … our community, working with community members to be a positive … and trying to resolve what's happening. You always hear people talk about, ‘Well, we're at the table, but … we don't feel like nothing's happening.’ And I truly believe that when you come to that table to make a decision, when you come to the table to … deal with the problem, you may not be able to resolve that problem within a week, two weeks, within a month's time, it may take six months to a year.
I have members that I met at the community task force that I have given my number to and actually texted today and said, ‘Hey, we can meet in the next week,’ and start having conversations separate from the task force that they're trying to accomplish.
So my goal is to continue on the path that we're on, to motivate our personnel that work within our organization.
Former Police Chief Gordon Ramsay placed an emphasis on community policing here in Wichita. Could you define exactly what community policing is and what kind of effect it's had on this city?
So community policing is simply when an officer gets out, we actually have beat officers that are designated as community police officers, and they get out in a community and they have meetings and they interact and they listen to concerns. And when there's a situation that happens, like for instance a violent crime or a traumatic incident in the neighborhood, they have impact meetings in the middle of the block to where they can inform citizens of that block what's happening and at the same time receive maybe information that the detectives didn't get the night of the incident.
Community policing (is) … not just in dealing with neighbors having conflict with each other, but actually engaging the community and allowing them to move to a whole nother level, taking ownership of their neighborhoods and getting buy-in from the citizens.
At a task force meeting looking into the death of Cedric Lofton, the department was asked several questions about mental health and how the police department can respond to those calls. Are there changes and policies that are specifically being looked at right now?
This is one of those incidents that you take very serious. So the council members have been part of the conversation, city manager’s been part of the conversation along with city law, the police department. We've already had a meeting coming together to figure out what can we do different within our own home, within our own house, as a city organization? Some of the suggestions that have been put out, and these are things that we're going to have to work with other organizations, but so they're not able to be done overnight.
At the same time … we have the CRB – the citizens review board – that are looking at our policies or juvenile policies and dealing with and focusing on how we are able to deal with juvenile situations in mental health and the appropriate steps that we should take. So we have different groups that are out there coming together, looking at this while at the same time awaiting the recommendations from the task force to be able to allow the one to come together and hopefully be able to have some actionable things that we can do to deal with mental health.
Across the country there has been tension between police departments and some of its communities. What is the state of that relationship here in Wichita?
Initially with all of the civil arrest that was taking place, many officers, their morale was decreased. It was devastated initially because of what the media was reporting across the nation and what was being reported in different areas. The citizens here stepped up. They came through and during the civil unrest, we had many groups that were dropping food, dropping drinks off at the station, dropping cards off showing support. And the reality of it was people love the police.
It’s in our observation, there's a small group of individuals that will never like the police, have never liked the police, and it's hard to change their mindset of … the police that are getting heard. And so I would say 95% of the people out there will back and support law enforcement 24/7 because they understand the police are needed.
The use of no-knock warrants was brought up recently in the Kansas Legislature and has been back in the spotlight with the death of Amir Locke in Minneapolis. Where does the police department stand on using those, and how often are those used, if at all?
We don't use those here. There's no way that we're going to be able to do a no-knock in this community. As we've seen in life experiences through other states, other departments, there are some serious safety issues and as far as officers go and the individual, when you bust into someone's private home, they're protecting their home and they have the right to protect their home. Not announcing who you are, definitely not appropriate.
Any warrants that you see the police department's involved with, you're always going to have in big white letters on ‘Wichita Police’ or you're going to have people yelling, ‘Police department, police department.’ You're always going to have some kind of identification so that whoever we're dealing with is aware of who's involved and who is there.