Written by Bonita Gooch – Wichita Community Voice
In what was a cordial beginning to his relationship with Wichita’s African-American community, new Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay answered questions and visited one-on-one with members of the community during a meet-and-greet session held Mon., Feb. 8 at Urban Preparatory Academy.
A crowd of approximately 50 met the chief and listened attentively as he responded to audience submitted questions doled out by moderator Djuan Wash of Sunflower Community Action. The format kept the meeting on task, but still many people were disappointed when the chief wasn’t able to answer all the submitted questions within the allotted one-hour. However Chief Ramsay hung around for almost another hour visiting one-on-one with individuals who lined up to have their say.
He responded to questions about new policies for use of force, release of police body camera video and the implementation of a citizen review board with real power. Here’s a little of what he said.
• The department currently focuses too much on enforcement said the new chief. He wants to see the department focus more on “enriching lives and making our community better.”
• He’s a big believer in community policing and wants all police officers to see their job as community policing or building relationships with the community. This will take more training, he said.
• To increase diversity in the police department he says he’s going look for more mature candidates for police officers, people looking for a second career, “people who have lived a little. They can relate better.”
• The new Chief shared an experience where he walked into a shift meeting shortly after arriving in Wichita and how the officers, not immediately knowing who he was, treated him in a less than friendly manner. “If they’re going to treat me that way, how are they going to treat people out in the street,” Ramsay said.
• On implementing an independent citizen’s review board, Ramsay shared in his former position in Minnesota, he had a group of community leaders that he would sometimes share videos with after police related shootings or other police/community incidents. “There are a lot of laws in officer involved shootings,” says Ramsay. “I want you to have trust that it’s (the incident) going to be taken seriously, but I’m not sure I have the answer to that (citizen review board with power).”
• He’s a big supporter of body cameras and his department in Minnesota was one of the first in the country to fully implement body cameras. He began by installing dashboard cameras in the squad cars and when the video from one of those cameras helped answer both his and community questions in a officer involved shooting, he says he was sold on cameras. He initially purchased cameras for patrol officers but after they were received so well, they eventually expanded them to the whole department.
• On the current City of Wichita policy on release of police body camera video, he noted the policy gives all the power to release video to the District Attorney and takes it totally out of his hands. He didn’t seem to like that and indicated he would be looking into the policy.
• Chief Ramsay wasn’t aware of the City of Wichita favorable ballot initiative vote to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana but he indicated that in his previous department he made possession of small amounts of marijuana a ticketable offense, similar to the policy voted on and approved by Wichitans.
“Someone with a small amount of marijuana should not be pulled into jail,” he told me, “and you can quote me on that.” He’s not sure what he can legally do in Kansas to implement a ticketing policy for simple marijuana possession, but it appeared to be something he would look into.
The meet and greet was cosponsored by: the Wichita Branch NAACP, Sunflower Community Action, the Kansas African American Affairs Commission, the Greater Wichita Ministerial League, Real Men, Real Hero’s and PACT.