Officer discipline, more police on street: New Wichita chief talks about changes

  • In US
  • 2022-12-02 11:27:00Z
  • By Wichita Eagle

The new Wichita police chief clocked in for work early.

Joseph P. Sullivan has a lot of work ahead of him.

The police department, the largest in the state, has been embroiled this year in mishaps, including a text message scandal where former chief Gordon Ramsay and his executive staff were blamed for light punishments to officers who sent racist, extremist and inappropriate messages.

Sullivan, who was tentatively supposed to start Dec. 5, started Nov. 24. One of the first moves he made was to reroute all police discipline through him.

He will now have the final say in all discipline, something that wasn't done in all cases under Ramsay. Sullivan said he plans to work with human resources to ensure any discipline is fair and equal. Supervisors of the officers being disciplined will also be able to weigh in, he said.

"That's how you begin to regain the confidence in the rank and file and increase morale," he said. "They know that they can count on being treated fairly."

Sullivan also said that having disciplinary issues come directly to him would eliminate external influence. Ramsay and his executive staff have alleged the police union influenced discipline in the past.

During his second week as chief, Sullivan, a former leader with the Philadelphia Police Department, also weighed in on some of the issues that have troubled the department, looming decisions he will make and future goals for the department.

More police on street

Some of the ways Sullivan said the community will be able to measure his success will be dropping crime rates and better retention of officers because of better job satisfaction.

Decreasing crime, he said, will happen by putting more officers on the street and freeing up current officers to do more proactive police work, rather than just respond to calls.

"I've observed that detectives don't work at night and that bothers me," he said.

Sullivan said the department also looks like it has a high number of specialty teams, which take officers off the street. He said he would evaluate each team and decide if those are the best use of manpower. Specialty teams taking officers off the street emerged as an issue among officers who participated in focus groups led by Wichita State University last year.

Gun violence

Sullivan also emphasized a more aggressive response to gun violence.

"When it comes to drive-by shootings, you are going to see a lot more aggressive stance by this department," he said. "And you are going to see that if someone fires a gun in the city of Wichita, we care. And it doesn't matter where in the city it occurs."

Deputy chiefs

Ramsay and deputy chiefs Chester Pinkston and Jose Salcido were blamed in a city report for the lax discipline given SWAT officers after the text messages were sent. The city report also said then-interim police chief Lemuel Moore should evaluate if Pinkston and Salcido are competent to serve in their current roles and if they should be disciplined for their involvement in the scandal.

Moore didn't decide on any discipline, so that decision now falls to Sullivan.

Ramsay, Pinkston, Salcido and former deputy chief Wanda Givens fired back by threatening a lawsuit and sending a demand letter to the city that alleged bribery and corruption. The four seek $2.5 million and the resignation of city manager Robert Layton.

When asked if he would release the details about the discipline decision, Sullivan said: "I just cannot comment on that right now … there is active litigation."

Sullivan also said he is working with human resources and legal staff to decide if he can put his own deputy chiefs in place. He said that before making any big decisions, he would evaluate everyone and not just go by what's been reported.

It's not uncommon for police chiefs to want to put people they choose in leadership positions.

Police promotion

Sullivan would not say whether he might revisit a controversial police promotion.

Andrew Finch was killed by officer Justin Rapp in 2017 after stepping out onto his porch unarmed. Police responded to Finch's address after a California serial hoaxer reported a bogus murder-hostage situation following an online gaming dispute. Finch had nothing to do with the dispute.

Rapp was promoted to detective by former interim chief Moore this year despite a letter in his file explaining why he had been passed over for a promotion in the past. Rapp had told a police supervisor that if he ever ran into Finch's mother he would tell her to get over the shooting because he had, according to an internal police report.

Sullivan said he had reviewed some of the details of the case.

"If that was said, it would be very disappointing to me .. to have that comment made and that person promoted," he said.

He said he would look into whether overturning a promotion is allowed under police contracts, but would not say if he would, even if he could.

He also would not say if he would release the names of officers involved in the 2021 arrest of Cedric Lofton, 17.

Lofton's foster father had called police to take Lofton for a mental health evaluation, but he was arrested and instead booked into the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake Assessment Center, where he was held face down for more than 40 minutes. He later died.

He was allowed to stay at the center, and not be taken for mental health treatment, after Wichita officer Ryan O'Hare changed his answers on an intake form after he talked with other officers.

Wichita police have not released the names of any of the officers involved. The Eagle was able to identify O'Hare's involvement through a Kansas Open Records Act request.

"It's something I am willing to consider," Sullivan said when asked if he would release the names of the officers. "But I have to move very cautiously to make sure I don't violate the contract and result in any costly litigation."

A pending lawsuit by Lofton's family blames multiple organizations and people, including 10 unidentified Wichita police officers, for Lofton's death.

Subpoena power?

The Citizen's Review Board was created to increase transparency in the department. But The Eagle found key details left out of the packets the board received when it reviewed the text message scandal case.

Sullivan said that, in Philadelphia, a citizen board could do its own investigation, which would require the power to subpoena witnesses. That would allow the board to not be dependent on what police are willing to share. Sullivan said he is open to the idea of having that here.


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