Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay has been in the limelight a lot during his eight months on the job. Ramsay is committed to being a visible, responsive and involved leader addressing concerns and challenges head-on. KMUW’s Abigail Beckman spoke with Ramsay and has this sound portrait in which the chief shares his candid thoughts on the direction he’s leading the department as well as the issues facing policing today.
“I think policing everywhere is leading the news right now, and it’s not by choice. But we’re at a time in our country where many social issues are colliding, and police-related issues are oftentimes the flashpoint for all of these social issues and disparities in our systems.
I believe in innovation in our line of work too. There are better, more efficient and more effective ways to do things. And police are under scrutiny right now for a reason. And whether it’s right or wrong we need to talk about it. We cannot simply say, ‘This is the way it is.’ We need to have those conversations.”
“When I first entered police work in the early 90s, I thought that by today we would have a tool that could successfully incapacitate someone without killing them. And that still does not exist. We have a Taser that works sometimes. We have increasing options for less lethal force such as beanbag rounds or foam rounds that we are utilizing to an extent. Unfortunately, sometimes we run out of options, and that’s probably one of the biggest issues facing policing today.
Now that the majority of our all of our patrol officers have body cameras, those are an increasingly valuable tool for us to review. What we've got to look at with the officer-involved shootings is [that] we hire standard-issue people. While I think cops are special in their own way, they are standard issue. They have emotions; they make mistakes just like you and I make mistakes. And what do we do when an officer makes an honest mistake without malice? Or, just in the dynamics of policing where you have horrific incidents, you're dealing with stress that not very many people can relate to. You have to make split-second decisions, and you make the wrong decision? That's another issue we need to face: Do we expect the officers to be perfect? And what happens if an officer does make a mistake, an honest mistake? How do we handle that?”
“Social media is evolving so fast, but it does help us get closer to our community. I field multiple questions every day from either Twitter or Facebook, and it’s just one more way to connect with people and for them to have access to me that normally they wouldn’t have.
I don’t want to get locked in the chief’s office and become disconnected from staff and citizens. I like to [ride along with officers in the field] at least once or twice a month. I like to make traffic stops myself and visit neighbors that I’ve met and just talk to people. I don’t know if anybody recognizes me or knows who I am, but I just like to stay connected.”
“The idea came about after watching the first protest and realizing the amount of resources we had put into it. A lot of people saw that, and they didn't realize that we were doing a lot of work behind the scenes with the organizers, with local chaplains and religious leaders to ensure that that was a controlled and contained protest, that we weren’t going to have property damage or people get hurt. And I was thinking that night, and I thought, 'We have got to channel this into doing something more productive.'
So I talked with a couple of the leaders and suggested that we have a dialogue and, you know, maybe I'll buy some food and we can all talk about it. And they were excited about it because everybody wants these changes. We want things to be better. We want to have good relationships with the community that we serve."
And I think it went viral because everybody is tired of seeing police on skirmish lines fighting with their community. And we did it different, and it was very successful. But it doesn't end there. I am committed to making changes and being the absolute best we can be being servants of our community treating people with dignity and respect and really being leaders in our profession.”
This sound portrait included audio from KSN, KAKE, KWCH, CNN and NBC:
Follow Abigail Beckman on Twitter @AbigailKMUW.
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