Just shy of two months into his new position, Lawrence Police Chief Rich Lockhart is still digesting the mountain of information that comes when taking on a new police department.
Lockhart arrived in Lawrence on the heels of multiple studies commissioned by city and county officials investigating racial profiling and distrust of law enforcement during the past several years.
With more than 26 years in the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department and nearly six years as chief in Warrensburg, Missouri, Lockhart has had experience dealing with those issues. He said he had witnessed racial disparities caused by inconsistent enforcement in the past, and he believed those problems could be solved case by case.
“I think the way you have to address that is in in looking at your individual officers,” Lockhart said. “It’s real easy to look at and see if somebody’s stopping a particular race more frequently. I have had this happen (in Warrensburg). We had officers who were stopping people because their license plate light was out. We call that a humbug charge.”
Lockhart said officers used pretext stops that were legal but unwarranted, resulting in a disproportionate number of stops involving nonwhite drivers. Many of those stops pertained to minor vehicle malfunctions that didn’t increase public safety.
To stop the problem, Lockhart said he worked with his officers to be sure pretext stops were made only for offenses that more logically would result in a stop with public value. A missing license plate, for example, was likely to result in finding a stolen vehicle or a person driving without insurance or a license.
“So that’s where we want to get with this,” he said. “We want to educate our officers about what constitutes a good traffic stop. Make sure you have a good policy in place that prohibits racial profiling of any kind or any bias-based policing. Train on that policy so that your officers understand what it means.”
During his tenure as chief in Warrensburg, the police department published annual analyses of traffic stops that showed varying degrees of disparity between white and nonwhite drivers. Lockhart said the State of Missouri had collected similar information statewide since 2001.
Officer credibility and Brady-Giglio
Although the information reflects disparities, Lockhart said the numbers hadn’t changed in 20 years, and he wasn’t certain that continuing to compile traffic stop statistics was offering new, useful information.
“You can’t get into the mind of an officer by collecting data, but as a supervisor I can get into the mind of an officer,” he said. “When I see something that looks to me like it might not be appropriate, maybe it’s not bias but the person who’s being stopped may see it that way. Maybe it’s not appropriate because there wasn’t a reason for the stop other than some humbug charge.”
He said during Tuesday’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting that an ongoing traffic stop study in Lawrence and Douglas County, which has also revealed racial disparities in local policing, was unique in that it contains individual officer data.
“I think that’s where we really need to drill down to see if there are disparities,” he said.
Lockhart believes there is room for nuance in other concerns as well. Brady-Giglio is an abbreviated reference to two landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases that compel prosecutors to turn over evidence that might impeach a witness’s credibility. That information can include witnesses’ records, such as criminal convictions, and for officers, it can include previous findings of racial or bias-based policing, dishonesty and more.
In cases where an officer has a record that could impede their ability to testify, Lockhart said “everything is situational.” He said it was his responsibility to share that information with the district attorney’s office — not to decide whether the officer was fit to testify.
“Brady-Giglio deals with issues of truthfulness, and issues of ethical conduct,” he said. “If you have an officer that has a DUI, is that an ethical conduct issue if it happened off duty? I don’t know the answer to that question. The primary issue behind Brady-Giglio was truthfulness.
“Truthfulness is very important in this profession, and if you have truthfulness issues, it’s going to be difficult to overcome.”
Between this interview and the publication of this article, two former Lawrence police officers, David Shane Williams and Jonathan Gardner, have been charged with on-duty crimes. In a department news release after Gardner’s arrest Friday, Lockhart said he was “appalled” by Gardner’s alleged conduct — allegations that include an on-duty rape in 2017.
“Those alleged actions are not consistent with the values of the department and, if true, Gardner violated the trust of the community he was sworn to serve,” Lockhart said in the release. “The conduct Gardner is accused of is not tolerated by the department. … Most importantly, I would like to extend my appreciation to the community member who possessed the courage and bravery to come forward and report this allegation to our agency.”
Since being sworn in Jan. 18, Lockhart has also been working to learn more about his newest home, meeting with residents, city commissioners, advocacy groups, business owners, the chamber of commerce, and the Community Police Review Board, which was established to improve the relationship between the community and the LPD and ensure accountability.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “There’s a lot of folks kind of helping me say, you know, slow down the drink, but at the same time I think it’s important to spend my time being able to create these relationships. The relationships are what this job is all about.”
Lockhart said he believes the school resource officer program is one of the most important programs in the department. For most people, interactions with police come during a traffic stop or as an intervention during a traumatic experience, leading to negative associations with police work, he said; SROs are with students daily in Lawrence Public Schools, which gives them a chance to establish positive relationships with students, faculty, staff and administrators.
Lockhart said SROs generally are not in schools to make arrests, but if they do intervene, they are trained to treat students respectfully.
“They don’t look at an SRO and think ‘arrest,’” he said. “They look at an SRO and think, ‘That’s the police officer who keeps us safe at school.’ We’re celebrating your accomplishments with you. If you think of that high school as a family, we’re part of that family.”
‘Unlicensed mental health care’
Lockhart calls police “the largest provider of unlicensed mental health care in the country.” Although it would be better if calls concerning psychological or behavioral issues could be addressed by professionals trained in treatment, Lockhart said the reality is that when there is trouble in the middle of the night, the public usually calls the police.
Some LPD officers have undergone crisis intervention team training, which is designed to improve public safety responses to individuals experiencing a behavioral health emergency. Lockhart said he hoped to provide CIT training for all officers.
“It gives the officers an extra set of tools to put in the toolbox,” he said. “They can understand what somebody with schizophrenia looks like when they’re in psychosis because they’ve heard from somebody during training who are schizophrenic, or they have heard from a physician who treats people with schizophrenia.”
CIT training is helpful not only in understanding a situation, Lockhart said, but also in how to respond to it. For example, an aversion to eye contact might indicate someone with an Autism spectrum disorder rather than someone who is acting suspiciously, he said. Recognizing behaviors associated with being on the spectrum and understanding how best to approach a person could prevent unnecessary escalation in a crisis.
Lockhart said that like behavioral health, helping people who are unhoused requires a special set of skills and the right mindset.
“Being homeless isn’t a crime,” he said. “One of the things that I really like about Lawrence is it’s not viewed that way. There is a large community response to people who are unsheltered, and there are shelters for people who need that. There are a lot of services here.”
Lockhart said he would also like to improve mental health among law enforcement officers, likening the ongoing trauma they experience to a frog slowly boiling in a pot.
When he started as an officer more than 30 years ago, police were expected to internalize their experiences, resulting in personal and health problems. Today, Lockhart said, organizations have replaced gallows humor and emotional walls with peer support and therapy when needed.
“The profession is now starting to recognize this effect of secondary trauma,” he said. “If it’s not dealt with, it can result in personal problems like drinking or divorce, but also can cause misconduct on the job.”
Getting used to calling Kansas home
Almost two months in, Lockhart is still getting used to his new city. Periodically interchanging “we” and “they” when referencing his former departments, Lockhart said it’s difficult to switch gears after spending almost six years as chief in Warrensburg.
Not only is it a culture shock to shift from Tiger to Jayhawk, he also has had to get used to job-related differences. In Missouri, for example, there are no crimes classified as “battery” — only assault.
“That’s been a big one for me,” Lockhart said. “Batteries were things that went in flashlights, cameras, or cell phones. I think I’ve got it figured out now.”
Originally from Michigan, Lockhart did not set out to be in law enforcement. He traveled to Arkansas for college at Harding University where he studied biology in the hopes of becoming a high school science teacher.
By graduation, however, he said school began to be a grind. With several friends in law enforcement, Lockhart decided to make a change.
“I thought I’d give this a try,” he said. “You know, do it for a couple of years and then maybe do something else. Thirty-two years later, I’ve never left. It’s just a great job.”
Lockhart met his first wife while in college, and after graduation the two decided to move to the Kansas City area, where she was from. Once there, he joined the KCMO police department, where he served in human resources, patrol, special operations, and research and development. He left as a major in charge of public information.
Lockhart and his second wife most recently lived in Warrensburg with their blended family of seven children ranging from 15 to 26 years old. At the end of this school year, his wife, Laura, and two youngest children will make the move to Lawrence, joining a son who is currently a freshman and member of the KU marching band.
Lockhart said he enjoys photography in his free time and has spent many sunrises and sunsets on the banks of the Missouri River. He enjoys studying the works of other photographers and has shown three times at the Westport Art Fair in Kansas City. He said he looked forward to checking out the Kansas River and the wetlands.
“It’s my therapy,” he said. “I like landscapes because you don’t have to talk to anybody. I haven’t done it in a while, and I’m really looking forward to getting back out when it warms up a little bit here.”
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