In the final stage of recruitment for police chief, Rich Lockhart met with community members Thursday and said he thinks a consultant group’s report completed in the spring is a “great roadmap” for the Lawrence Police Department.
A meet-and-greet event at the Lawrence Public Library served as an opportunity for Lawrence residents to get to know Lockhart — the sole finalist candidate after a nationwide recruitment effort — before the city might make him an employment offer. Attendees had the chance to talk to Lockhart and provide feedback by filling out a form to turn in to city staff at the event.
Lockhart currently serves as the police chief in Warrensburg, Missouri, where he moved after working as a Kansas City, Missouri police officer for 26 years. He said although Warrensburg’s police department is smaller than Kansas City’s, building relationships in the two communities has been similar.
“I’ve got a wide variety of experiences from smaller rural agencies to a big city department, and then Lawrence is kind of right in between those,” Lockhart said. “I think that helps me come in and sort of blend those two experiences to create something here that can be really good.”
If the city makes Lockhart an offer of employment, he said one of his first short-term goals would be to get to know his department and Lawrence’s community leaders. He would start building relationships with the City Commission, he said, and try to find out what vision city staff have for the department. From there, he said the department could start to address what they’re doing right and where they need to improve.
“The Citygate report that was done last spring is a great roadmap,” Lockhart said, referring to an outside consultant’s report that makes 75 recommendations for LPD and the city. “It’s a great place to start. I think just building on that and then getting to know my staff and where their strengths and weaknesses are, and working on formulating a plan for moving the department forward.”
In terms of ensuring trust in the department and serving the Lawrence community equitably, Lockhart said step one would be establishing relationships with the community proactively — not just interacting with the community in crisis. It would mean making sure Lawrence police officers are doing their jobs constitutionally, he said, as well as being transparent with the community about when the department does something wrong.
“It’s my philosophy; I call it ‘Mess up, ‘fess up, and move on’,” he said. “When we do something wrong, we tell you what we’ve done to correct it. Then we tell you why we’re not going to let it happen again.”
The Lawrence Police Department has been working this year on setting and meeting measurable goals to increase the department’s cultural awareness, following a report from consultant group Citygate Associates that showed the department lacked cultural competency when interacting with marginalized people. Lockhart said one of the best ways to improve this would be for officers to increase their interactions and exposures to different cultures and identities.
“The more that we can be around people who are different from us and have those discussions, whether they’re difficult discussions or whether they’re easy discussions, the more we’ll understand people,” Lockhart said. “And at the end of the day, people want to be understood and they want to be validated. And if we can do that, we’ll start building that trust.”
Representatives of the Lawrence Police Officers Association did not respond to an email last week asking if the union had the opportunity to participate in the search process or meet with Lockhart.