Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer recently told an auditorium full of people that he intends to put cameras on all Wichita police officers by the end of the year, after the issue was brought up by countless people at Thursday evening’s #NoFergusonHere meeting, a meeting that intended to prevent the further deterioration of police/community relations.
Support for body cameras on police officers and for an independent citizen review board with subpoena power were two of the most prevalent demands from the crowd of several hundred. Unfortunately, the city, under its current leadership, does not appear to be in favor of either of these measures.
The way the mayor and city manager framed their answers to questions about these issues in the meeting, and in later statements to the media, you could get the impression that they want cameras on police officers, and that they want an independent review board to have the power to investigate allegations of police misconduct.
However, a closer look at what the city is actually saying reveals exactly the opposite.
In the meeting, Mayor Brewer attempted to appease the audience by saying he would instruct the city manager to look into getting body cameras on every Wichita police officer by the end of the year. While this is obviously not a realistic plan (getting cameras on every officer within one year of today might be a more realistic timetable), this slight exaggeration is not the problem.
The problem is that the Mayor and City Manager do not have the power to force any Wichita police officer to wear a body camera. Just months ago, the city agreed on a settlement with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which is the police officers’ union. Under the terms of that settlement, the department can no longer reprimand or restrict the duties of any officer for that officer’s refusal to wear a body camera.
Even if the city can find a way out of this settlement, which is unlikely, City Manager Robert Layton has clarified the city’s actual plan in regards to police body cameras, in a news interview that took place shortly after the mayor made his statement. Layton says that the mayor’s goal is unrealistic and that the department will more likely be adding a few cameras by the end of the year and then proceeding with a “phased implementation” to get the rest of the department fitted.
The problem with this is that this was the plan, all along. The department had already planned on adding a handful of new cameras by the end of the year, and has already been conducting a phased implementation. Unfortunately, at the current pace of this phased implementation, it will take 25 years to get the entire department fitted with cameras.
Again, we cannot ignore the fact that the department does not have the authority to require any officer to wear a body camera. Based upon this set of facts, it becomes clear that the mayor’s promise to fit the entire department with cameras by the end of the year was little more than political grandstanding. In reality, the city has not changed its stance on the issue of cameras, at all.
To better understand the issue of body cameras and how the mayor really feels about it, you can watch this video, from earlier this year, when Kansas Exposed editor Mike Shatz addressed the City Council to request that all officers be outfitted with body cameras. The mayor actually said that if we wanted the funding for these cameras, that we could hold a fundraiser to get the money. Evidently, when Shatz sarcastically mentioned the possibility of a fundraiser, the mayor thought he was being serious.
In regards to a citizen review board, with subpoena power, the city manager mentions two review boards that currently exist. One is a review board that exists of members appointed by the city manager (this is not independent) and that board has never reviewed a single case, despite having been assembled years ago. The second board mentioned is the Racial Profiling Advisory Board (RPAB), which is independent, and which is doing a fine job of investigating instances of racial profiling.
The problem with the RPAB is that it has no real authority, no subpoena power. It’s scope is currently limited to instances of racial profiling, and the department simply ignores the findings of this board. The RPAB submitted, to the department, 100 cases of racial profiling, and the department actually denied all 100 cases. By broadening the scope of the RPAB and giving that board subpoena power, the city could easily empower a real citizen review board, but that does not seem to be in the plans.
If the city is serious about cleaning up the department and regaining trust within the community, hollow promises and the continued policy of denying any problems actually exist is not a wise strategy. How can we trust the department when the department clearly does not trust the community enough to let us know what is really happening?
How unfortunate for the community that Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer decided to exploit the death of Mike Brown for political purposes, rather than using this opportunity to offer real change.
You can view the #NoFergusonHere meeting in its entirety: