If the Wichita Police Department implements the recommendations of an independent, third-party review, the city will soon have an Assistant Chief of Police, a revamped police leadership team and detectives who work nights and weekends.
The national police consulting firm Jensen Hughes was hired to do a top to bottom review of the department after a scandal involving several officers within the Special Weapons and Tactical team, sheriff’s deputies and a Wichita fireman who were caught exchanging racist, sexist, xenophobic text messages with each other. Some of the texts identified some officers as having ties to hate organizations.
Not until an investigation by the press uncovered involvement by 14 police officers, 3 sheriff’s deputies and one fireman in the text thread was any constructive punishment delved out. The fallout resulted in the resignation of some officers, including Chief Gordon Ramsey and in the commissioning of the Jensen Hughes review.
‘Unhealthy and at times toxic culture’
The consultants found a department in need of serious changes in the way it does business, from the schedules employees work to the processes for promotion and discipline.
The consultants also said they found a “toxic culture” within the department. “If culture is defined as common norms, values, beliefs, and behaviors of individuals within an organization, the current internal culture of the WPD is unhealthy, and at times toxic,” the consultants found.
However, they also said that should not be taken as an “indicator of the lack of ability, intelligence, drive or pride among the individual members of the agency.” On the contrary, the report found that “many excellent, dedicated police officers work for the WPD.”
Among dozens of officers interviewed, 94.9% said they are committed to making the department successful and 87.3% said the department’s goals are important to them.
On the flip side, they do not feel that the agency is as committed to them as they are to it.
Only 11.9% felt that they agree or strongly agreed that the WPD prepares them for the next step in their career and only 17.5% felt that decisions on promotions and special assignments are made using objective criteria and a little over 27% feel that the mandatory training they receive prepares them to do their jobs.
The consultants said individuals had difficulty putting their emotions into words and when they did, they came up with “dysfunctional, broken, negative and horrible.”
The report noted low morale among employees, a dwindling number of people sitting for promotional exams, officers promoted to higher positions even though they scored below 70% on the general knowledge test required for promotion and doubts about the qualifications of some of the people promoted to supervisory positions.
Jensen and Hughes found that only 15.9% of officers interviewed agree or strongly agree that the disciplinary process is fair and only 16% agree that personnel who consistently perform badly are held accountable.
Recommendations for Core Cultural Change
The consultants had five specific recommendations to improve the internal culture of the department. They said the city should:
- Develop supervisory and leadership training directly related to performance management and accountability strategies to enhance the perception of fairness and equality of employees;
- Create, publish and disseminate an overall policing strategy that illustrates individual and unit roles in its implementation;
- Engage employees in the development of the strategic plan to help enhance employee buy-in and create an environment that encourages suggestions and feedback;
- Recognize individuals that go above and beyond to assist other employees or units and publish examples of employees demonstrating acts consistent with organizational vision, mission and values.
The report recommends that the new police chief, Joseph Sullivan, be given the authority to create a position of assistant chief to be second in command, take charge when the Chief is away and represent the department at events when the Chief’s schedule doesn’t permit him to be there.
They also recommended that:
- Sullivan be empowered to assign or reassign people serving as deputy chiefs,
- That a night detective unit be restored to assure that detectives are available to respond quickly to crime scenes,
- Changing schedules to make sure high-ranking officials are always available to provide guidance to sergeants or respond to volatile situations and finally
- That annual review of Standard Operating Procedures be conducted and documented.
Making Promotions Fair and Transparent
Jensen and Hughes found that promotions to detective, sergeant and lieutenant are generally regarded favorably, mostly because they are clearly articulated and codified in both policy and the Fraternal Order of Police contract.
Captain and Deputy Chief: However, there are grave doubts about the process to advance to the rank of captain or deputy chief.
They detected a sense among officers that those promotions are made with favoritism, interference from city hall or influence from the FOP.
There is no codified process for advancement to those ranks, which is made worse by the fact that all candidates participate in oral boards and interviews, but are never informed of how the rankings are made. That leads to a feeling of unfairness and a level of distrust and fear because candidates are concerned that running afoul of command staff will prevent future promotions. That fear stifles professional disagreement and dialogue and can lead to poor decisions.
Detective as a Path to Advancement: They also found that there is an organizational flaw in the WPD’s requirement that all officers must pass through the rank of detective to advance.
They pointed out that some officers may not have an interest in being part of an investigative unit, but with proper training could fulfill the role of patrol sergeant.
Promotion Process: The consultants recommend that:
- WPD add the ranks of captain and deputy chief to the codified policy for promotions, similar to lower rank promotions;
- Coordinate with outside sources to make sure that all promotional processes and assessments are validated;
- Consider setting minimum standards for eligibility for promotion;
- Develop leadership and supervisory training for those who are eligible for the promotion process;
- Mandate post-promotion leadership training for any officers who did not receive it before promotion;
- Publish and distribute criteria for the selection of members of oral board panels;
- Consult with labor counsel on the development of assessment tools that safeguard against disparate negative outcomes for minority candidates;
- Develop a committee consisting of internal and external stakeholders to seek input on promotional criteria; and Develop a career development program that will better prepare patrol officers to test for promotion to sergeant.
The Code of Conduct
The consultants found that the Wichita Police Department falls short when it comes to clearly communicating its expectations of officers.
The assessment team did interviews with both police officers and stakeholders inside and outside the agency and reviewed documents, manuals and operational guidelines.
Although the department does have a written code of ethics and conduct, the consultants found that the officers believe that penalties are not applied fairly and that members are not held to the same standards.
They found that “many of the policies in the current WPD Policy Manual are not actually policies but lists of rules and procedures.”
A policy, the consultants said, should offer general guidance based on the department’s philosophy on given issues, while a procedure should supply a detailed description of how a policy is to be accomplished step-by-step.
The consultants said that police officers often face situations where a specific procedure cannot be followed precisely because of equipment failure, safety concerns or other issues. However, if officers clearly understand the department’s policy, they are more likely to act in a manner consistent with the values and priorities of the department.
Each policy should have terms that clearly state the value behind it, the consultants said. For example, a policy on internal investigations would have “fairness” as a term, while a use of force policy would include discussion on the “sanctity and preservation of life”.
Jensen Hughes found that many of the department’s regulations are merely a checklist of behaviors, either required or prohibited, but they are not connected to a core value. What is needed, they said, is an understanding of why behaviors are required or prohibited.
The consultants found that officers believe that command staff will punish one officer for engaging in “conduct unbecoming an officer” but allow another off the hook for the same behavior.
Use of Force
The scope of the assessment by Jensen Hughes did not include a review of the use of force by members of the WPD. But because use of force is often related to officer conduct, the firm did review the Weapons and Use of Force Requirements regulation.
The consultants found that, like other regulations, there is no clearly defined policy statement but the regulation quotes the state statute that says an “officer need not retreat or desist from efforts to make a lawful arrest” and the officer is justified in any force which he or she “reasonably believes” to be necessary to make the arrest.
What’s missing, the report says, is guidance informing officers that sometimes retreat or de-escalation is an appropriate action to take and that the force used must not exceed what is necessary.
“The WPD would be wise to consider developing purpose and policy statements that guide officers in understanding how the department defines “reasonableness” and state the agency’s position on de-escalation and tactical retreat when appropriate.”
The consultants said the use of force regulation should also offer guidance on an officer’s duty to intervene if they witness application of excessive force by another officer.
Missing Policies, Vision, Value, Standards
“The WPD may want to consider a complete review of its policy manual to add language throughout that sets clear expectations, reinforces the mission of the agency and defines organizational values,” the report reads.
“The WPD may want to consider a complete review of its policy manual to add language throughout that sets clear expectations, (including for items such as use of force, de-escalation, tactical retreat, duty to intervene) reinforces the mission of the agency and defines organizational values,”The Report Reads
Jensen Hughes recommends that the department write a new Code of Conduct because much of the organizational disarray stems from unclear expectations and ambiguous rules. They suggested that the agency should develop new vision, mission, values, goals and objectives statements prior to writing a new Code of Conduct.
The consultants noted that in law enforcement, Codes of Conduct often contain provisions that put some limit on the personal liberties of officers, prohibiting them from joining any organization that supports criminal acts or conspiracies and from associating with groups that promote hatred or discrimination toward racial, religious, or ethnic groups.
The report detailed the signs of mistrust in an organization: increased staff turnover, command and control management, silo mentality, reluctance to take risk, loss of commitment and deteriorating morale, elevated feelings of staff vulnerability, reduced communication and rampant rumors or gossip.
“Unfortunately, signs of all these elements were present during our personnel interviews and exhibited in the survey of members of the department,” the report says.
All the signs of mistrust in an organization: increased staff turnover, command and control management, silo mentality, reluctance to take risk, loss of commitment and deteriorating morale, elevated feelings of staff vulnerability, reduced communication and rampant rumors or gossip, were present within the department.
It quotes one respondent saying “Morale is certainly at an all-time low. In part due to staffing but largely due to command level policy and decision making. There is very little trust and respect of command by line-level personnel.”
Discipline and Internal Investigations
The consultants found that WPD does have standard procedures for the investigation of complaints or allegations of misconduct against employees of the agency in a fair, impartial and complete manner.
The consultants found problems with the Fraternal Order of Police Contract, which allows for employees to receive increased pay as incentive to follow the Code of Conduct. Officers, detectives and sergeants get an additional $2 per hour after three years of service. In 2024, that will increase to $2.25 an hour. That money is considered “regular pay” and is issued in calculating overtime pay rates and salary calculations. The contract allows those officers to forfeit some of that pay in lieu of a disciplinary suspension. An officer could give up two months of differential pay and reduce a suspension by one day. If they give up a year of pay, they could nullify a six-day suspension. The consultants suggested the city negotiate its way out of that provision.
In some instances officers can also give up vacation time instead of suspension without pay, which is a problem because it gives the perception that no penalty was imposed.
The consultants suggested several changes to language to clarify handling of internal investigation.
They suggest including language to make it clear that coaching and mentoring can be a part of the disciplinary process, revising language to make it clear that the right to make a complaint extends to non-citizens as well as citizens and taking action to ensure that all documents in investigative files are confidential.
The Citizen Review Board
The Wichita Citizens Review Board was first established in October 2017 and was amended in April 2022. The consultants noted at the 2022 amendment made a number of positive changes and stressed the importance of the Board in internal investigations.
The CRB meets once a month, typically from 4 to 6 p.m. in City Hall. Minutes of their meeting are posted on the police department website.
Completed complaint investigations may be reviewed by the CRB at the request of the complainant or selected by a member from a monthly spreadsheet prepared by the WPD of all completed complaint investigations.
The CRB has chosen to focus its case reviews upon investigations involving the use of force, conduct unbecoming an officer and conduct that threatens the integrity of the department.
Generally, the consultants found that the review board is effective and helps build trust in the police department within the community.
They did recommend that the board schedule monthly meetings during non-business hours and at community locations throughout the city and that the board develop a written strategic plan that includes engagement with and messaging aimed at building positive relationships with the members of WPD and the Wichita community.
Consultants also recommended that the board be provided with dedicated funding to support its mission and administrative needs.
Finally, they recommended that the board issue a yearly, written report that highlights the board’s activities and outcomes.
Improving relationships within the City
The final assessment made by Jensen Hughes deals with the relationship between the police department, the city’s human resources department and city officials, especially the City Manager.
They recommended that the City Manager and the Police Chief clearly identify respective roles for communication and decision-making.
“The City Manager should provide the Chief of Police with his expectations for employee accountability, leadership and communication in the disciplinary process,” the recommendation reads.
The consultants suggested a formal process for communication at the end of serious disciplinary investigations, allowing the Chief to notify the City Manager and Human Resources Director of their intentions. They noted that the process should not influence the outcome of the investigation but coordinate any adverse personnel actions that will have larger-scale ramifications for the City and could involve legal proceedings.
The consultants recommended that WPD develop a comprehensive communications strategy, providing for advanced training for public information officers or mixing those officers with professional media specialists to develop internal and external communications.
They also suggested that the department consider hiring civilian staff to handle administrative functions such as setting up community meetings and events, and free up time for patrol officers to participate in more community policing activities and community engagement.
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