WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The City of Wichita will consider changes to its Citizen’s Review Board (CRB). However, it would come after the city hires an independent firm to look at potential “cultural problems” within the police department.
A committee that investigated how the Wichita Police Department dealt with misconduct by 12 Wichita police officers has issued its report. The committee said the discipline “was not appropriate given the seriousness of the offenses” and the impact on the community, the WPD and the City of Wichita. (See full report below.)
The officers shared discriminatory images and text messages and made light of the use of force by officers. The review found that the actions of the officers and the handling of the subsequent investigation by the WPD brought discredit upon the officers involved, the WPD, and the City of Wichita.
“They’re going to look at best practices this is a discussion I had with Mayor and Council and an extensive conversation about what we should allow the CRB to do what do they need in order to be able to stand up and tell the community that they have reviewed matters in the police department, have made effective recommendations and they are being implemented,” said city manager Robert Layton. “So we’re looking at best practices and those have to be done in the context of the existing city’s personnel policies as well as the FOP agreement.”
Right now, the CRB acts as an advisory or oversight board. Its members look at cases, give feedback on the results and give recommendations to the police department, which include recommended policy changes. However, the CRB does not have investigative powers. Some within the city council discussed being open to that possibility weeks ago, especially after the city council approved changes to the CRB that gives them the authority to release its findings to the public. During the public comments, Dr. Walt Chappell suggested the CRB have more investigative powers.
“You really are setting up an independent agency to monitor the police department that’s what you’re really doing and so it’s going to come at a cost,” said Jay Fowler, CRB chairman. “You have to issue subpoenas, you’re going to need a lawyer, you’re going to have to enforce a subpoena, you’re going to have to deal with objections to the subpoena, you’re going to have to deal with privilege issues, you may need to have an investigator, maybe you need to take depositions and before long you’re in a whole different process.”
Fowler feels the city does not need to change the entire model of the current CRB, but did recommend some modifications to the board and when members could take a look at cases. Fowler told KSN the CRB is expected to adopt new changes at the next meeting.
“All we are doing or anticipate that we’ll do with an adoption of a new protocol is discover it a little earlier, we still won’t make a review because the PSB (Professional Standards Bureau) organization has to complete their investigation first and that makes sense you want the investigation done before you complete a review,” said Fowler. “You have more eyes, you have more visibility, you have an awareness, so you know to check and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Wichita State University criminal justice professor Michael Birzer feels the city could adopt a hybrid model, which would include some advisory and some investigative components.
“Let’s say you can do a pilot over the course of the next year or two you can begin the board with more investigative authority and then you can evaluate that and see how that’s working,” said Birzer.
Birzer added that it’s in the city’s best interest to hire a third party to look at potential cultural issues within WPD, and see what went wrong with how the city handled the inappropriate, racist text messages.
“I think that’s been part of the problem with police departments, of the past, they’ve been very closed agencies, you know, we do the police stuff, you don’t be concerned about what we do I think we need to change that mentality,” said Birzer. “I think any responsible chief executive for a police agency needs to really consider how can I be more transparent, does the community that they need to know about an officer’s credibility issues, absolutely.”