What community members knew, was front and center this week: racism in the Wichita Police Department.
When District One City Councilmember Brandon Johnson ran for office in 2016, one of his major platform issues was cleaning up the Wichita Police Department. So far, he admits, he hasn’t seen the kind of change he had hoped for. Now, despite the negative news about groups of officers within the department sharing racists texts and memes within a group, Johnson says the discovery may finally help to bring about some real change within the department.
‘This is one of the things we’ve been hearing for years,” said Johnson about racists officers within the department, “and this is one of the times we have some actual documented evidence of it happening.”
So far, 11 officers, three from the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, and the balance of the Wichita Police Department have been identified as part of the group that’s received, sent or participated in the posts.
The texts were uncovered as part of a criminal investigation of one of the officers who had been charged in a domestic violence case. Investigators were going through his phone looking for evidence in that case when they uncovered the texts.
The texts, originally discovered in April 2021, were handled differently by the two departments.
When information about the texts began surfacing Monday in an article in the Wichita Eagle, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter immediately went online to make it clear all three officers included in the texts no longer worked for the department. District Attorney Mark Bennett announced that when he learned about the actions, he had all tickets and cases involving those officers dismissed due to perceived prejudice.
What happened to the WPD Police officers on the group text? Little to nothing. When that information was discovered, the entire management team, including the City manager and the Mayor, denied knowing anything about the texts until last month — 10 months after it occurred. When contacted by the media, former Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay, who left his position earlier this month, said he informed the manager about the incident shortly after it happened.
Ramsay, who had hoped to get administrative actions taken against the officers, found himself fighting back against the police union and the City’s Human resources officer. Ramsay referred the case to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who looked into them but found nothing criminal.
Now that the incidents have been leaked, it appears the city council and city manager may take action to address issue of racisms within the city’s law enforcement ranks.
“I think people should know that we are looking into this and action will be taken,” said Johnson. “The council does not agree with this in any way, shape, or form and it stands behind any tough actions that need to be taken even including termination of each officer involved.”
Johnson says the City’s administrative team is in the process of reviewing the texts and group messages to get a better understanding of what action can be taken. By the city’s charter, action against the officers must be taken by the city manager, not the city council.
Johnson says the manager believes he should be able to issue appropriate punishment for those involved within 14 to 21 days.
To address the bigger issue of “culture” within the department, Johnson says the council and administrator will move quickly to hire an independent consultant to look into problems within the department.
The organization, will take a look at “the entire culture of the organization and make recommendations for change.
“What made this okay to even start sending messages like that or memes,” questioned Johnson, “and why didn’t officers correct that behavior when it started, are just a couple of the questions Johnson wants answered.
Johnson believes the best organization will be one from outside of the city, with no ties to the department. Beyond discovery, part of the contract for the agency will be implementing change within the department.
“We’ve been trying to shift the culture of the police department for a number of years,” said Johnson. “And this is evidence that it hasn’t shifted yet.”