Wichita police in focus groups say morale is at an all-time low


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Wichita City Hall.

The Wichita Eagle

Morale in parts of the Wichita Police Department is at an all-time low, according to comments made by patrol officers in focus groups last fall.

And senior police leaders are more concerned with public image and assigning blame than solving problems, according to feedback from focus groups, which involved 26 officers from southern and eastern bureaus.

“The strongest sentiment expressed … was a lack of appreciation for the work of police patrol by the executive staff of the (Wichita Police Department),” according to a summary of the four focus groups conducted by State University. of Wichita.

“Elements cited in support of this lack of appreciation are chronic understaffing, creation of task forces at the direct expense of patrol staffing, lack of resources to address the growing mental health crisis , the lack of recognition of the skills needed to do good. patrol work and a promotion structure that does not value patrol experience.

“Participants reported staffing conditions on patrol to be among the worst in their experience.”

Wichita police officials did not respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon.

Staff shortages are a chronic problem for the ministry, according to the report. But other issues that surfaced in focus groups raise new concerns.

The focus groups included 13 officers from the south office and 13 from the east office, whose experience ranged from one to 18 years. The mix was made up of half women and half men, who were split up for focus groups held in August and September.

Focus group employees make up about 3% of the service, which has nearly 900 people.

Chase Billingham, a sociology professor at Wichita State University, said focus groups aren’t meant to provide generalizations about the feelings of an entire population, but provide deeper details about a topic than a sample survey.

Here’s what the focus group agents had to say:

Staff and Remuneration: Agents feel that their salary does not reflect the work they do. And the “lack of adequate patrol staff was cited as a serious threat to job satisfaction and a cause of low morale,” the report said. An officer, with “many years of experience”, cited the most resignations in 2021 than any other year he was there, according to the report.

Officers also said an unnecessary number of specialist teams had taken officers off the streets.

Mental health calls for: Calls often tie up agents for long periods of time. The report says “the community has unrealistic expectations” of agents’ ability to resolve these calls. An example given by officers was responding to calls about out-of-control children who pose no threat.

The mental health team, called ICT-1, is a good resource but there is only one team, officers said, adding there should be one team for each office.

Diversification efforts: Agents in the focus group said efforts to diversify the department have led to the hiring of underqualified people who don’t stay long and can compromise the “safety of all agents,” according to the report.

“The high turnover rate among first-year agents shows that it can be useful to improve prospective agents’ understanding of what the job will be like before investing in their training,” the report said.

Diversity efforts have also created the perception that promotions are not based on merit, according to the report.

Chief Constable Gordon Ramsay, who said he was tasked with diversifying the department when he took office in January 2016, has touted the department’s diversity as one of his proudest achievements.

“The face of the department has changed forever,” he said in December. “I’m really proud of that.”

Other issues mentioned in focus groups:

  • Officers in the southern office have complained about the pilot three-shift system intended to help alleviate staffing shortages.

  • Women in focus groups said some of their male counterparts did not understand their role in calls and arrests.

  • Officers felt “strong support” from leaders in their offices and reported having positive relationships with the community, the report said.

Dr. Delores Craig-Moreland, a professor of criminal justice at Wichita State, sent the focus group results to police officials in October.

Wichita State denied an open record request for the emails, saying the search was not complete. Craig-Moreland did not respond to questions from an Eagle reporter and hung up the phone.

Both emails were provided to The Eagle by a person familiar with the documents who is unidentified for fear of retaliation at work.

The results of the focus groups are part of a larger study carried out in the southern and eastern offices; full results could be released to police officials at any time, a source told The Eagle.

Craig-Moreland, who oversaw the focus groups, was concerned about some of the comments made by officers and whether she should include them in the final report, according to an email she sent.

On October 12, she sent a draft of the report and told police staff that she wanted the two captains who commissioned the study to tell her “whether the remarks are clear and will not result in unfavorable treatment of officers. who participated. She said the findings would be part of a quarterly report “unless there is a sense of withholding the report.”

In an email she sent two days later, she said there were comments added that mostly had to do with attitudes towards “management personnel and their goals”.

Among the comments added in the email was a section on comments from the Eastern office that said “executive staff are more concerned with PR (PR), ignore serious issues.”

It further indicates that management personnel are “capable of avoiding scrutiny by blaming others”.

climate survey

Former Wichita captain Kevin Kochenderfer said the completed study would be more comprehensive because it included input from officers at all levels of both bureaus.

He was the instigator of the study.

Kochenderfer was reassigned to the Eastern office in mid-2020 and wanted to get an idea of ​​what issues he might have to deal with.

Kochenderfer said he spoke with South Office Captain Wendell Nicholson about surveying his new office. Nicholson, who had already done an investigation, referred him to Wichita State for help, Kochenderfer said.

“I have thick skin and I want to know what works and what doesn’t,” he said.

Kochenderfer, who had worked for the department for 27 years, retired shortly after getting the results, citing an opportunity he couldn’t pass up as director of security for Ascension Kansas.

Nicholson declined an interview.

Kochenderfer said he was open to conducting an investigation, but heard the results upset some department leaders.

“I don’t know what the big concern is with all of this,” he said. “The only thing I can take from all of this is that the comments or the results of any of the focus groups or something weren’t flattering. I really don’t know why that would be so important. C This is the purpose of a climate survey.

He said the investigation should give officials something to rely on.

“It’s not a personality contest,” he said.

Michael Stavola covers breaking news at the Wichita Eagle. He won a national award and several state awards during his six years working for Kansas newspapers. He completed his MBA at Wichita State University in the spring of 2020. Michael enjoys exercising, hunting, and spending time with his wife and their dog, Marley.

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