An open letter to District Attorney Marc Bennett on shooting video


District Attorney Bennett:

On August 28, 2014, the City of Wichita held a public forum entitled “No Ferguson Here”, with the stated goal of repairing the damaged relationship between the Wichita Police Department and the community it serves.

Prior to that meeting, a Facebook event was created, entitled, “No Camera, No Gun”, inviting residents to attend the City’s meeting and demand that all Wichita Police Officers be equipped with body-worn cameras.

At that meeting, which was held in the Wichita East High auditorium, the community came out in force, with one unified message, and that message was clear: put cameras on these officers. Prior to that meeting, 13 officers had filed a grievance with the Fraternal Order of Police, stating that it was unfair that they were required to wear body cameras due to their Brady/Giglio status.

Even during the No Ferguson Here meeting, the City Manager was hesitant to commit to purchasing body cameras, citing cost as the reason. It was not until the very end of the meeting when then-Mayor Carl Brewer vowed that the department would be equipped.

Then, as the community waited for the cameras that were promised, forces aligned with the FOP attempted and failed to pass legislation at the state level, which would have made it virtually impossible for the public to view the footage from these cameras.

The policy that the Wichita Police Department recently released, which governs the use of these cameras and the footage is extremely problematic. The draft that was sent to community organizations as the city sought our input was insulting. The first objective that was listed was, “to increase officer safety”.

While no one is against officer safety, it was not concerns over officer safety that filled the East High Auditorium with fed up residents. It was a lack of transparency, and a lack of accountability. The final draft of the body camera policy was amended to reflect this.

To make matters worse, the policy is riddled with vague language such as “officers should generally” instead of using concrete language such as “officers shall” or “officers are required”, providing endless loopholes.

But even now, Interim Chief Nelson Mosley claims in news interviews, that the goal behind purchasing the cameras was to show the public what officers go through on a daily basis, which signifies this department’s complete lack of understanding in regards to how the public perceives their actions.

The taxpayers of Wichita have spent over $2 million to equip this department with cameras, not due to concern over what officers deal with, and not over concern that prosecutors needed more evidence to use against suspects, although these are both acceptable uses for the cameras.

The taxpayers of Wichita bought these cameras for precisely the situation you are now faced with. The department says that the young man they shot had a gun and was running towards the doors of the school. The mother of the victim/suspect claims he was unarmed and shot in the back while running away.

Releasing this video footage in a timely manner will put this discrepancy to rest, while showing the public that this investment was worthwhile. The time to start rebuilding trust is now, not later. Transparency in these matters is of the utmost importance, and I call upon you to deliver that transparency.

The taxpayers of Wichita spent $2 million on cameras and now the taxpayers of Wichita want to see what that money has bought them. I implore you to use your power as an elected official to deliver.

While I do believe the video will show this young man did have a weapon, if the plan is for us to simply take the Wichita Police Department’s word for it, we need a better plan. This department’s credibility has been severely damaged, and the public has no reason to trust Chief Mosley or the other members of the top brass, which is why we wanted the cameras in the first place.

Please, release the footage and let transparency and justice prevail.

Sincerely,

Mike Shatz

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