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January
16
2018
The Frustrating Limits of Transparency . . . Again

When I arrived in Wichita I committed to increasing transparency and changed practices such as notifying the public as soon as possible when a police officer has been arrested. Recently, I came across this blog I wrote when I was a chief in Minnesota. It references a serious officer misconduct case from 2012.

Today, I feel some of the same frustrations regarding recent WPD issues and what information we can or can’t provide due to labor agreements, the Kansas Open Records Act, active criminal investigations, and City policy. Having served as a chief for nearly 12 years, I have worked diligently and sincerely to be as transparent as allowed by law, policies and union agreements. I will continue this work with the help of WPD partners and other community stakeholders. Following is the blog from when I was chief in Minnesota:

The police department is one of the most visible and critiqued areas in local government. Transparency and dissemination of timely information to the public is critical in every corner of the policing world. Dealing with data privacy laws, while trying to be transparent and keeping the community informed, is a tough line for police administrators in Minnesota.

One particularly difficult incident occurred a few years ago, when I terminated an employee in a use of force case that received a lot of media attention. Due to Minnesota law I was unable to publicly share that I had terminated the employee. Unfortunately, law forbids releasing employment information until final discipline occurs, which is after the grievance period or arbitration. The only information I could release was previous discipline, employment status and whether it was paid or unpaid. In this case, it was unpaid administrative leave even though the employee had been terminated.

Many in the community asked why I did not terminate the employee and were upset the officer’s employment status was “administrative leave.” Some believed we were not being transparent and I found myself frustrated that I could not talk more openly about what action had been taken. The termination eventually became public when the union dropped its grievance, but it was tough from a community relations standpoint to not speak directly to the matter at the time. The fact the employee was terminated 18 months later was no longer news and the fact the employment status remained “unpaid leave” simmered in many communities.

This post was originally published in October 2017 at Chief Ramsay’s blog.

FEATURED BLOGGER
Gordon Ramsay
Chief of Police
Wichita Police Department, Kansas