Search underway for new Lawrence police chief; city manager outlines priorities

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on May 3, 2016.

The City of Lawrence has begun its search for a new police chief, and city leaders are looking for someone ready to lead a police department in the midst of significant changes.

“I think you need to have strong leadership capabilities,” City Manager Tom Markus said. “It’s a large department and there are a lot of issues in the city that are currently underway for that department, so someone that’s had some experience in a leadership capacity in the past is something I’m looking for.”

Markus said the police chief, who reports directly to the city manager, will have to address issues such as the initiation of the department’s mental health squad and the ongoing work of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to identify alternates to the traditional criminal justice system. He said there is also the long-standing discussion about adequate staffing and a future police facility.

“All those issues kind of come to bear in terms of what a person’s skill set is and experience in the past has been,” Markus said.

Lawrence voters narrowly rejected a citywide sales tax to fund a new $28 million police headquarters in 2014. The city’s capital improvement plan has budgeted $1.5 million this year for designing a new police headquarters, and the topic is scheduled to eventually come before the City Commission.

The city began accepting applications for the position of police chief on Monday. The starting salary for the position will be between $120,000 and $140,000, depending on qualifications. The police chief oversees the department’s 150 officers, 30 civilian staff and an operating budget of $23.4 million.

The application advertisement also states that an important value for the community and the police department is “the need and desire for transparency and openness to the public.” The police department is in the process of increasing some aspects of oversight. Efforts are in motion to increase citizen review of police complaints, acquire body cameras for officers and break down data regarding police stops by race.

Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib will step down as the department’s head in June. Khatib has been with the Lawrence Police Department for more than 20 years and has served as chief since 2011. Khatib confirmed in December his plans to retire from the force.

Markus said candidates for the position will undergo multiple interviews, and visits to the communities of outside applicants are possible. He said up to five finalists will be named, and the finalists will participate in a public meet and greet.

“That helps vet the candidate locally,” Markus said.

The city will continue accepting applications for the position of police chief until March 20, and Markus said finalists will be named by late spring or early summer.

“The timing about that is not as critical to me as making sure we get the right candidate,” Markus said.