Lawrence Police Department prioritizing calls by solvability; non-officer responders working out well, chief says

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The Lawrence Police Department is prioritizing calls by how solvable they are, LPD Chief Rich Lockhart told city commissioners Tuesday, and the addition of four non-officer responders has helped with efficiency.

The department is now using a solvability matrix to guide its members’ efforts, he said. They’re going to focus and investigators’ time on violent crimes against people and the most severe and solvable crimes.

Emergency dispatch will help classify calls as they’re received, and Lockhart said someone with the department will call people and let them know they’re going to have a delayed response and offer to schedule a time to make a report — probably the next day, either over the phone or in person with a teleserve employee.

LPD now has three mobile “teleserves,” and one based at the station. They assist with taking reports in a timely manner when an officer is unavailable. Lockhart said the department is short-staffed, but adding the teleserves has helped free up officers’ time.

He mentioned auto burglaries where the suspect is not on the scene as an example of a report that a teleserve could take — calls where it won’t affect the outcome of an investigation for the report to be taken the next day or at a time when the department isn’t busy, he said.

The department also aims to improve communication with crime victims, Lockhart said. If they have a report with no evidence, no suspect information and no real tips to follow up on, “We’re gonna make contact with (the victim), either through a letter or or phone call or some other kind of communication, and let them know that their case will be inactivated unless and until we develop further information,” Lockhart said. “We’re gonna explain the process about how we’re prioritizing scarce resources, and then listen so that we understand any concerns that they may have about the way their case was prioritized.”

He said that with an attitude shift the department is implementing, officers will be able to spend more time on “purpose-driven policing”: problem-solving and building relationships when they’re not actively handling an emergency call.

Lockhart said the teleserve employees are working out really well.

The teleserves wear navy pants and a dark navy shirt with the city logo on it. They have police radios but they are unarmed and they drive a white car with the city logo on it.

They spend about three weeks in training, Lockhart said, and they are paid less than sworn officers.

“We had a large number of applicants to choose when we chose these three, and the three we have are really good quality folks,” Lockhart said. “So the pay is right for the job. We had a lot of good folks to choose from.”

He said the department has gotten some interest from candidates who turn out not to be qualified because they might not be psychologically fit; “there’s some really odd folks out there”; and “Drug use is another one that pops up quite a bit, and it’s just part of our society now.” However, Lockhart said he thinks it will be easier to fill officer positions with a new pay scale that is in place.

“Quite honestly, if we weren’t going to be able to fill our up to 152 sworn officers, we probably would have come to the city manager and asked him to allow us to convert some more of those into mobile teleserves so that we could continue to take those report calls,” Lockhart said. “They’re taking somewhere around (300 reports per month), so it’s a significant number they’re taking off of patrol, and it provides a better outcome for our community as well because they’re getting their report taken a lot quicker than they would be if they had to wait on an officer.”

Still to come, LPD will soon roll out its 911 alternative response team, Lockhart said. “We’re really excited about some of the work that that’s going to do because we think we’re going to be able to defer a lot more calls away from the police and into our mental health response teams.”

One person during public comment asked why LPD holds its own police academy in-house rather than sending recruits to the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center in Hutchinson. Lockhart said LPD did send all new recruits to KLETC during 2022, but its incoming class of 11 that starts in January will be large enough to justify an in-house class. He said LPD adds four additional weeks to the 14 that KLETC requires.

“We think 18 weeks is a more appropriate level for basic training,” and LPD academies include smaller classes, more reps in training and more individualized instruction, Lockhart said.

Also, he addressed another member of the public’s comment about an officer leaving a vehicle idling outside. He said a lot of people don’t understand why that is.

“The police car takes a long time to sign in with passwords, and get all the systems booted up. So once an officer begins their shift, they do allow the car to idle, they lock it,” Lockhart said. “That way, if there’s an emergency call that comes in, they’re able to get in that car and get going and not have to wait for all those systems, like the computer, the dispatch system that’s loaded in the computer, the in-car video system to boot back up. That takes some time.”

Lockhart’s presentation to the commission was part of a work session, and the commissioners did not need to take any votes related to it.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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