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Meet Joe Sullivan, Wichita’s new chief of police

Wichita Police Chief Joe Sullivan with his three children Sara, Joe Jr., and Tricia (left to right).
Courtesy of Joe Sullivan
Wichita Police Chief Joe Sullivan with his three children Sara, Joe Jr., and Tricia (left to right).

KMUW’s Kylie Cameron sits down with Joe Sullivan to get to know him and his first impressions of his new home.

After more than 25 years with the Philadelphia Police Department and at a public safety technology company, Joe Sullivan will become the new chief of the Wichita Police Department next month.

KMUW’s Kylie Cameron sat down with Sullivan before his tenure begins to get to know him more as a person and to get his first impressions of his new home.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

Kylie Cameron: What are your early impressions of Wichita so far?

Joe Sullivan: This is an emerging city. It definitely is. I think the future of the city in the next five years is really bright. The people are very welcoming. It's a very positive vibe. Coming from a city like Philadelphia, there's so much to do here. And I think that's a misconception. A lot of people on the East Coast, they tend to think that Wichita is just purely rural, and I've been correcting them very passionately.

You became a cop at 19 years old.

I wasn't old enough to drink or buy a gun.

What drove you to do that?

My father was in the police department, he was in HR [human resources]. And I think that growing up, I was just around it. It was the thing that I always wanted to do. And to be honest with you, when I was in… college, I was young and wasn't terribly focused. And I got a call to report to the police academy. And, you know… I couldn't get there fast enough.

Many years later, I had to finish that education because I realized I aspired to one day be something like the police chief of Wichita… and so I made sure that my children got their education first and then began their careers because I didn't want them to make the mistake I did.

We've talked shop, we've talked policies. Who is Joe Sullivan, as a person?

I think they actually intertwine because I've been doing this for so long... it's such a commitment. But I mean, as a person, I'm a father of three grown children. I have a daughter in Chicago. And she is actually an animal biologist; a quantitative biologist. We're not even quite sure what that means, the rest of the family. But she's absolutely brilliant. She just got back from Rwanda. She was there helping her local colleagues learn a software program designed to track a certain breed of gorilla that isn't on the endangered list. So she's been all over the world doing conservation.

And my daughter, Tricia, she lives outside of Seattle. And she is into interior design and is very successful at it. And then my son is, he's…in law enforcement, and I need to leave it there. But he's actually in the state of Kansas right now.

You also said in previous interviews that your son and daughter-in-law are involved in law enforcement. What’s it like to have a family so involved in the career?

On one hand, it's great because we can talk about law enforcement. I've always been able to give him a lot of direction, in terms of what to look out for… I'm able to be a father and a mentor, and we're definitely best friends. And that's something that I didn't… have coming on the job. So it really makes me feel good to be able to help him in that way. But he's kind of taking things to the next level. So it's amazing to hear him talk about his emerging career.

But, of course … I worry. Now I'm on the other side … they had to worry about me, and now, we all worry about him.

Philadelphia is known for many things, the sports scene being one of them. Are you a big Philadelphia sports fan?

I’m a big Eagles fan. So it works out that Andy Reid is the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. And I really do like Patrick Mahomes… I think he's an incredible talent … I really admire him on the field and off the field; I think more players should be like him. So it's an easy transition; I can root for both. And I just pray that they don't end up in the Super Bowl competing against one another. I'll be in quite a bind then.

You've lived in Philadelphia for all your life. Are you expecting the transition to sort of a smaller town like Wichita to be challenging?

I think I did at first. And like I said, I came out just before the Halloween weekend, and I went back on … that Tuesday. And any doubts that I had were definitely erased during that visit. I mean, I just had such a good time, I didn't really want to get back on the plane. So now, I really don't think that's going to be a problem.

It's a professional venture for me, taking over the department and becoming the chief, and it's a large department. But it's a personal adventure, too, again having lived your life in a city on the East Coast and moving to Wichita, Kansas. But I'm really excited about it. I really am.

 What are you looking forward to, as you're getting settled in your new city?

Personally, I think it's that sense of community that I've experienced here. Where people are just really engaging with one another and the difference in culture. It's really a city that's so full of culture.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I'm really grateful for this opportunity, and … you're gonna get 150%. It's a great city. And it's a really good department. I know there's some things that I need to do. And I'm quickly becoming aware of what they are, but it is a very good department, and we're going to make it a great department.

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.