Committee criticizes Wichita police misconduct, racism
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Department leaders did not adequately discipline members of the Wichita Police Department who exchanged racist, sexist and homophobic texts and images, and mishandled their investigation of the incidents, according to a city report issued Thursday.
A committee appointed by Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said the department must crackdown on biased police officers, poor leadership, botched investigations and poor oversight, among other things, The Wichita Eagle reported.
The committee was formed in response to an investigation by The Eagle that found some members of the department’s SWAT team joked about the use of force and exchanged biased texts, including an offensive image of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police.
The committee’s findings mirror those of the Wichita Citizen’s Review Board, a group of citizens that reviews investigative reports on police cases, released earlier this month.
The report released Thursday found that then-Police Chief Gordon Ramsay and his deputy chiefs mishandled an internal investigation into the allegations against the SWAT team members, did not appropriately discipline them and did not report their findings to federal or state prosecutors.
“Arguably, no discipline was administered to those officers who received ‘education-based discipline’ or ‘coaching and mentoring,’” the report says.
The report also calls for more training and says those “who have demonstrable biases should be systematically removed from the department.”
The text messages, which were sent from 2015 to 2021, were first discovered in April 2021 while investigators were searching the phone of a Sedgwick County deputy in an unrelated case.
Interim Police Chief Lemuel Moore said during a news conference that he would decide in the coming weeks how the officers could be disciplined, KSN-TV reported.
“The discipline itself does need to be reviewed and, from my perspective, more discipline may be issued, needs to be issued in this matter,” Moore said.
The report also recommended an independent review by a third party to determine the extent of bias in the police department. City officials at the news conference said Wichita is moving toward hiring an independent firm.
Moore said the police department has already taken steps to improve community trust with law enforcement.
For example, the U.S. Department of Justice will conduct three training sessions every Friday in May to talk to all the nearly 700 officers about racial discrimination and civil rights violations.
The Justice Department also will host meetings in the next 45-60 days that will bring officers and members of community groups together, Moore said. Panels of Black and Hispanic community members are being formed, with plans for LGBTQ and other groups next year, he said.
Moore said all officers are required to attend and that he would have stern instructions for them.
“You’re getting paid to listen, so sit there and be quiet, no matter how tough it is, no matter how wrong the person speaking to you may be. It’s important we have an ear and that we listen to the community,” he said.