WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter is urging lawmakers to be careful if they plan to pass police reform nationwide.
In a one-on-one interview with KSN News, Easter gives his perspective of police reform. He says he feels like his deputies have a target on their back.
“I think all of law enforcement does,” said Easter. “For an incident that happened in Minneapolis that I don’t condone, (don’t) agree with, hope they throw the guy in jail for the rest of his life. But to put us all in the category, I don’t agree with it.”
Easter has a unique perspective. He began his law enforcement career with the Wichita Police Department, starting as a patrol officer and working his way up to detective, sergeant, commander, and finally, captain when he retired from the WPD in 2012. That’s the same year he became the sheriff of Sedgwick County.
We asked him what people don’t know, but should know, about what deputies go through on a daily basis.
“Well that’s a very good question, and the reason I say that is, when I came on in 1989, it was no doubt, it was an us vs. them mentality,” Easter said. “Community policing came along in the mid-90s. I had left the streets and went upstairs, on other assignments, came back to the streets and I saw a huge change and it was not an us vs them mentality. Just kind of stayed that way, saw it a little bit in Ferguson, where it went to that a little bit, but us leaders got to combat that which we did.”
“Most law enforcement officers are tired of being called racists and we get called racists all the time,” added Easter. “I personally don’t think I’m a racist and I get tired of being called it. Cops get hit with this paintbrush or this broad brush that we’re all like that and we’re not.”
The nationwide rallies for police reform began after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Four men, who are now former Minneapolis police officers, are either facing murder or manslaughter charges in his death.
“And I get the fact that if we have bad people, I don’t want them either, and we have a track record of getting rid of those folks,” said Easter. “I can’t help if other people don’t.”
But Easter says you should not be able to see law enforcement personnel files.
“I will never support that, ” he said.
We asked if that would include excessive force complaints or something more specific.
“Their personnel files, which would include awards to discipline,” Easter said.
It is one of the proposals included in some police reform bills in Congress. While the bills are unlikely to pass both chambers this year, the Justice Act, written by Senator Tim Scott, (R-SC), calls for tracking excessive force complaints against members of law enforcement and making them public.
“We already have a hard enough time hiring people and retaining people, and so it’s not the fact that they really have anything to hide, it’s more of the circumstances that I just described,” Easter said. “Folks that are not sustained for doing anything policy-wise, but because they work in a certain area like the booking facility where there’s going to be a lot of use of forces.”
We asked the sheriff how the media or the public can find excessive force complaints regarding officers or deputies.
He said it is available through the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training (KS-CPOST). KS-CPOST oversees law enforcement training and grants certification to all Kansas officers who meet the requirements. It can also revoke certification.
“You can find it in KS-CPOST,” Easter said. “It’s reported to KS-CPOST they lost their licenses.”
“But that’s people who lose their licenses. There’s people on agencies right now who’ve probably had multiple excessive force complaints, they still have a job,” we added.
“Why shouldn’t they?” Easter said. “Do you know all the facts behind those? You don’t. And that’s my problem with it, is that inside this jail, we have people that come into booking every day
that are violent, that are spitting on people, that are doing vile stuff to these deputies.”
The sheriff went into further detail about why he does not want disciplinary records made public.
“I have no qualms talking about our discipline and what type of discipline we give out, but I’m not going to give it out by name,” he said.
He said he realizes that could be required in the future depending on what lawmakers decide.
“Absolutely, and we will abide by the law,” said Easter. “Do I understand why the general public and why you’re asking those questions? Yes, I completely understand that. But you also have to understand the other side of this. Law enforcement, in general, you always have 10% that are bad apples just like in any profession and we have our fair share of them, of 10%. And you have to rely on the fact that the leadership and the management is addressing those issues. I understand that’s a big ask, based on other places in the United States that haven’t been doing that. But all I can tell you from the sheriff’s office’s standpoint is we have a lot of good people here.”
The sheriff said he does support more de-escalation and duty-to-intervene training for officers. Easter also says his office, like many other law enforcement agencies, would like to have more resources for mental health calls. He said money is the big deciding factor.
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