After his badge was pinned to his new uniform, the emotion of Lawrence Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. was evident.
“I must admit, today is a dream come true,” Burns told attendees at his swearing-in ceremony Monday. “While I’m humbled, I cannot deny how happy and proud I am to lead this department, and I look forward to the challenge of my new position.”
Burns told attendees, who included police officers, city leaders and community members, that his goal as chief is to make the citizens of Lawrence as safe as possible, while also supporting the men and women of the police department.
But recent events in Lawrence also weighed on the occasion. Burns said he would be remiss if he did not mention the recent spike in violent crime that the city has seen.
Lawrence has had five homicides in the past month, the most recent incident a shooting in downtown Lawrence that left three dead and two injured. There have been nine fatal shootings in Douglas County since June.
Burns said that, sadly, Lawrence is not the only city seeing increases in violent crime, but assured attendees that the safety and well-being of the people of Lawrence will always be of paramount concern to him.
“The last couple years, several cities across the nation have seen these same trends,” Burns said. “One loss of life is one too many and does not have a place within our community.”
He added that detectives and officers will always work hard to bring those who commit violent criminal acts to justice. Burns, who is originally from Louisville, said he will spend the next several months learning about the community and the police department, with the goal of making the city a better place to live, work, play and learn.
City Manager Tom Markus, who introduced Burns, said being in law enforcement requires both special skills and character. He said Burns has excelled in his life and career, rising to assistant chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Support Bureau and receiving various awards for his service.
“It was this remarkable professional experience, along with Greg’s personal manner, humility and hands-on community approach, that made him a finalist among four top-notch national candidates,” Markus said. “And, ultimately, why he was chosen to be our next police chief.”
Markus also spoke about the recent violence in the Lawrence area. He began by thanking police officers for being the community’s line of defense in such instances.
“I know it’s not easy for any of you or for our community to experience these things,” Markus said. “And I know it takes you away from your families and your friends, but you should know that this community is behind you.”
When asked by the Journal-World after the ceremony about the city’s strategy for addressing the increase in violent crime, Markus first said that each one of the recent incidents had distinct features.
“They’re not connected except for the violent nature of them,” Markus said.
Regarding the downtown shooting specifically, Markus said he wants to see the facts of the case come out to see what drove it. He also said he thinks law enforcement needs to talk to the youth, not just in Lawrence, but in Topeka and Kansas City, as well, and find out what’s driving the rise in violence and what brings it to Lawrence.
Markus noted he’s heard questions about downtown venues, cameras and patrols, but that the important message he wants to convey to the public is that everyone has to let the police finish their investigation.
“We don’t want to jump to conclusions and end in solutions that aren’t really addressing what actually happened and why it happened,” Markus said. “Those answers have to come from the police department, so we need to let them finish their review.”