- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Wichita Eagle, Jan. 19

The growing credibility problem with the Wichita police department

Chief Gordon Ramsay read from a statement during Friday’s Wichita police briefing, then took questions from reporters.

One asked how indictments released Thursday, revealing two officers being charged with obstructing a criminal investigation, reflected on the department even though the officers’ actions allegedly occurred in 2014, two years before Ramsay’s arrival.

Seemingly exasperated - and not by the question - Ramsay went off script.

“There’s a lot that’s been going on, right?” he said. “I’m passionate about the role police play in society. We do tremendous stuff for the community, so it weighs heavily on us. Community support is critical for our success.”

Ramsay may see support waning for his department after a series of events that have put Wichita police in a negative light. A 3-minute, 45-second statement about working with the community to create understanding and build trust was the result.

Ramsay is correct. There have been many recent moments to create doubt within the city.

The shooting death of Andrew Finch, 28, who was unarmed when police surrounded his home Dec. 28 as the result of a swatting call, has gained the most attention. Police have said Finch lowered his hands to his waist against instructions before raising them, when an officer fired a single shot.

In October, public records revealed an off-duty officer was suspected of causing a 2016 collision and leaving the scene. The officer’s name was later removed from a police report identifying her as the driver. She has since resigned and filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Late last month, an officer fired two shots at a dog while investigating the report of a man threatening to hurt himself. The man was outside when the officer fired in a small living room occupied by four children ages 6-10. Bullet fragments ricocheted and hit a 9-year-old girl above her eye, the mother said. The girl had minor injuries.

Last week, a police captain was placed on paid administrative leave after being accused of pushing a female teen referee during a youth basketball game in Augusta. Video posted on Facebook showed the man taking a boy off the court and saying, “Get out of my way.”

Then Thursday, two now-former officers were indicted on accusations that they tried to identify an undercover officer during an illegal poker game in Wichita. Ramsay said Friday he knew of the investigation soon after his arrival in early 2016.

All this is happening in a period where police are working to solve seven homicides that occurred during a 10-day period in late November and early December. Ramsay last month announced the renewal of three teams that will target problem areas and problem people.

It’s also happening in a period where Ramsay and the department have been criticized, including here, for a lack of transparency in releasing body-camera video and answering questions that don’t appear to obstruct investigations.

Ramsay used his remarks Friday to renew his commitment to building community support. He said he has done that by having outside agencies investigate matters involving Wichita officers, notifying media and the public when officers are arrested or charged with crimes, and not paying officers on administrative leave until cases have been resolved.

There is hope a newly created citizens review board, to meet for the first time in coming weeks, will be a valuable tool for Wichitans outside the department to be part of the oversight process.

“While we have had issues lately that have rattled us, I have tremendous faith in the men and women of this department,” Ramsay said in prepared remarks. “They’re out there doing good deeds every minute of every day. We can’t lose sight that the overwhelming majority of our officers are tremendous public servants, and they work very hard to keep this community safe.

“Remember, there is nothing that good cops dislike more than bad cops.”

Same could be said of Wichitans who have faith in their police department. Those who trust police, but not blindly, have had a trying time recently as they justify the death of an unarmed man by a police gunshot. The heartache that the community feels for Finch and his family is also extended by many to the officer who took what was determined to be an innocent life.

But there are those who think Finch’s death is symptomatic of an above-the-law attitude by police. Recent questions about police judgment, combined with videos from across the country of officer-involved shootings, have reduced some residents’ view of police to a skepticism, waiting to see what goes wrong next.

We want to trust our police, and most times we do. Ramsay has worked since his arrival to improve police relations with the community, earn support and improve dialogue between cops and all Wichitans, especially those who have traditionally been wary of law enforcement.

But his statement Friday acknowledges an increasing credibility problem. Ramsay should use every tool available to fix it.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Jan. 17

Editorial: University research on hemp necessary first step

The problem with growing industrial hemp in Kansas is in the name.

Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species and contains tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component that provides the intoxicating high related to pot, or weed.

Legalization of pot for medicinal or recreational use has long been met with staunch opposition in the state. Any attempt to legalize industrial hemp could face similar opposition, though a measure that permits university research on the plant seems like a sensible step.

While university research is advocated in a bill under review by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee of the Kansas Senate, the measure prohibits commercial cultivation of the crop outside of state-sanctioned test plots.

Restrictions contained in the bill were written to appease law enforcement agencies that opposed a 2017 bill approved by the Kansas House, which would have allowed public and private business development for the growth of industrial hemp. That bill, which would have placed the Kansas Department of Agriculture in charge of licensing, did not make it through the Senate.

The viability of a potential bumper crop for state farmers influenced Rep. Steven Johnson, an Assaria Republican, to endorse the latest attempt to propel Kansas into a growing industry. Research, and even production, of industrial hemp has been approved in more than 30 states.

Concerns by law enforcement agencies over illegal marijuana activity are holding back Kansas farmers from the potential of benefiting from industrial hemp, which contains a THC content below 0.3 percent and can be refined commercially into such products as paint, animal food, clothing and paper.

University research could also prompt technological advances in equipment, and would be another potential offshoot to research the Senate bill would authorize universities to conduct on the plant.

With this initial measure, wheels would be set in motion for the growth of the crop legally throughout the state. Such a measure would probably ignite protest, not only by law enforcement agencies, but also those against the legalization of anything related to pot.

Yet again, hemp doesn’t contain a THC level needed to make it intoxicating. It is instead a versatile crop that uses less water, fertilizer and pesticide and is suitable in many capacities, including the prevention of soil erosion.

Moreover, the plant provides commercial benefits that allow growers in states outside of Kansas to prosper. The gains farmers would potentially realize from industrial hemp could enable young Kansans to stay in their rural communities.

The measure being examined by the Senate is only an initial step in the production of industrial hemp. Any ground broken that helps level a growing, and profitable, agricultural field is good for Kansas.


The Lawrence Journal-World, Jan. 21

The state’s career and technical education initiative has proved successful and deserves funding.

One of the most successful programs of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tenure is the “Excel in Career Technical Education Initiative,” which provides funding for high school students to take technical and career education courses at the state’s technical and community colleges.

Now, as Brownback looks to build on the success of the program, the Legislature should support the governor’s efforts by fully funding the program.

The Excel in CTE initiative was launched in 2012 with the passage of Senate Bill 155. The bill essentially provided high school students with free tuition for career and technical education courses at local community colleges and technical schools. Additionally, the legislation authorized $1,000 incentive payments to school districts for each student who earned an industry recognized technical certificate in a key occupation area.

The program has been enormously successful, growing from 6,101 students and 44,000 credit hours in the 2012-13 school year to 10,600 students and 85,000 credit hours in 2016-17. It has been so successful that costs of the program now exceed funding.

In 2013, funding for the program was $13.2 million and costs were $12.7 million. Last year, the Legislature provided $20.8 million in funding, but costs for the 2016-17 school year were $24.5 million. Current allocation for 2017-18 school year is $20.8 million. Costs are expected to be $28 million.

Now, Brownback is seeking to expand the program by encouraging school districts to partner with community colleges and technical schools so that high school students can earn dual credit when they take career and technical courses. The governor is seeking an additional $7.3 million per year to fully fund the program.

The state’s community colleges are leery of taking on the additional education load without the additional funding. “As we move into this legislative session, waiting to see what happens with the Legislature, we just don’t want to have too many programs that are being put out there and not have enough funding to be able to successfully run all of them,” Ben Schears, president of Northwest Kansas Technical College in Goodland, told the Kansas Board of Regents.

One third of the students who participate in the CTE courses in high school complete a certificate or degree while in high school, and two-thirds enroll in post-secondary training after graduating from high school. These are significant statistics, especially given the current shortage in post-secondary training to meet Kansas’ future workforce needs.

The Excel in Career Technical Education Initiative is one of the most important education programs implemented in Kansas in the last decade. It incentivizes students and school districts to pursue post-secondary education and training that ensures students earn increased wages and that Kansas’ future workforce needs are met.

Lawmakers should support Brownback’s proposal for full funding to meet the program’s expanding needs. It’s a worthwhile investment for the state.

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