The City of Wichita will start the new year with a civilian oversight board for its police. Its purpose, according to the Wichita Eagle, is “to help improve community relations and put another set of eyes on complaints and officer misconduct cases.” It is a trend that more cities are following. On paper, Great Bend was ahead of this curve by creating a Police Community Advisory Committee about 15 years ago.
Our committee will continue to exist unless the city council takes formal action to discontinue it. If we need this committee, let’s get serious about it and find a cross-section of people from the community who are willing to meet regularly. If there is no need for this group or if we are not serious about it, let’s be honest and drop it.
Here’s what the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has to say about police accountability and citizen review: First, assess whether a problem exists. If a board is created, make sure everyone understands the possible/probable outcomes of citizen review. Complete a preliminary cost analysis to determine the financial impact on the department and the city.
Wichita’s board will cost the city about $20,000. It will be able to make recommendations that the department may or may not adopt, help with community outreach and education, look at racial-based policing issues, and look over misconduct cases upon request and suggest policy changes that could affect future cases. It will not be able to conduct its own investigations, recommend discipline for specific officers or discuss its reviews of officer discipline cases and internal investigations publicly.
Again, the IACP notes, “Not all police departments need or would derive substantial value from formalized citizen review. In jurisdictions where community trust is solid and durable, strong police-community bonds exist, community access is institutionalized, and misconduct is not frequent nor egregious, citizen oversight is neither likely to emerge as an issue nor to have a profound impact on existing conditions. Smaller departments, in particular, have the advantage of constant informal interaction with citizens to maintain close ties and receive information and guidance.”
We don’t believe our city needs this, but if others in the community don’t trust our police officers, they need to speak out. Now that Capt. Bob Robinson has come out of retirement to serve as the department’s interim captain, perhaps the current city council should request his recommendation — and listen.