Wichita Police Chief Joe Sullivan has only been on the job for a few weeks, but he says he and his family love the city and the department and he’s excited about what the future holds.
He said he is moving as quickly as he can to get to know the department and Wichita’s diverse neighborhoods and has already attended two NAACP events in an effort to get to know members of the Black Community.
“I am accepting every invitation I can to attend meetings and events and I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback,” he said..
He said he is playing no role in the internal investigation of racist text messages between law enforcement officers that eventually led to the resignation of his predecessor and the filing of lawsuits from former Chief Gordon Ramsey and other department members who have resigned in protest.
Sullivan said the investigation of the Roller City altercation on New Year’s Eve night that resulted in the two teenagers being injured and an officer placed on desk duty pending investigation has been turned over to the Sheriff’s Department in “the interest of objectivity.” He said he would have no interim comment until the investigation is complete and then will follow with an internal police department process to determine how to move forward based on what the investigation reveals.
“I did meet with some folks from the Urban League and we had a discussion about possibly implementing a new process when we have large events in the community that draw a lot of kids. We discussed having community chaperones – adults who agree to be present for the event to step in and help if there is a disagreement that is getting heated.”
Need more manpower
The Chief said one of his primary goals coming into the job was improving on the Community Policing plan and getting more officers out in the community, but that has been hampered by a shortage of officers.
“We are about 66 officers short of full staff and that really hurts our ability to move forward with getting more people on the street.
He said the police department has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the city and county as the effort to get crisis teams to respond to all calls involving mental health issues.
“The ICT-1 teams are doing good work and I see improvement coming,” he said. “But those teams are not 24-7 yet. We will work hand-in-hand with them as they ramp up. Crisis teams have shown in other cities that they do work and we want to take advantage of every opportunity we can to reduce the number of encounters between police and citizens who are in mental health crisis.”
Knowing that it is impossible to cut police encounters with citizens in crisis to zero, he said he is also ramping up Crisis Intervention Training and making sure that officers are well-trained in using voice and demeanor to de-escalate a situation.
Gun owners in ‘no danger’
Sullivan said “legal, responsible gun owners are in no danger at the hands of my officers,” and said it is made clear to officers that a large percentage of people they encounter may be exercising their legal right to own and possess a weapon.
“I do urge anyone in an encounter with law enforcement to let the officer know they are armed and that they have no intent of using their weapon.
No arrests for fentanyl test strips
While possession of fentanyl test strips is illegal according to Kansas State law, Sullivan said he has told officers that it is “not a useful spending of our time” to make arrests of people for having them.
“I know they can save lives and that people do use them to avoid harm,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to reduce the number of overdoses and it does not make sense to deprive people of a tool that helps them stay safe.”