Newly hired Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay says he will be changing the department’s use of force policy, and that the Unit Training Commander will be attending training to implement the new policy, which will be based on a plan put together by the Police Executive Research Forum [PERF].
PERF’s plan has 30 principals designed to guide police departments in crafting their use of force policies. Several of those principals directly correlate with changes that local activists have been calling for.
Policy #2 states that departments should hold officers to a higher standard than the legal requirements outlined in the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Graham v. Connor, which is what Kansas state law is currently based upon. Graham v. Connor essentially states that an officer can use deadly force if that officer reasonably fears for their life.
The term “reasonably” in this context is highly subjective and open to interpretation.
Policy #3 states that use of force should be proportional to the threat, and that officers should consider how the general public might perceive the action taken. Currently, the Wichita Police Department trains officers to imagine the worst possible case scenario in a given situation, and to respond to the threat based on that worst case scenario. Activists and local attorneys have cited this shift in policy as one of the key factors leading to an increase in police shootings in Wichita.
Policy #8 forbids officers from firing their weapons at vehicles, when the primary threat comes from the vehicle itself.
Policy #9 prohibits the use of force against those who only pose a threat to themselves.
Policy #16 discusses the use of distance, cover, and time by officers to avoid unnecessarily and/or prematurely placing themselves in harm’s way, and states that the 21 foot rule, which has been cited by the WPD multiple times, is outdated and should be abandoned. The 21 foot rule refers to an officer’s proximity to a suspect with an edged blade weapon, specifically in regards to how long it might take that suspect to reach the officer from that distance.
Policies #17 and 18 both deal with the use of de-escalation as the go to method for dealing with potentially violent situations.
Policy #27 states that if an electronic control weapon (tazer) is ineffective, this does not mean that the officer should automatically switch to their firearm.
You can read all thirty policies included in the PERF document here: