Rich Lockhart hired as Lawrence’s new police chief; he’ll start in January

photo by: Contributed

Rich Lockhart

Story updated at 7:05 p.m. Friday:

Rich Lockhart has been hired as the new chief of the Lawrence Police Department, and he said his priorities would include understanding issues identified in a recent study of the department and mending relationships with the community.

Lawrence City Manager Craig Owens announced the hire on Friday, saying in a news release that the city was pleased to welcome Lockhart.

“Rich brings a wealth of experience from his previous positions, and we are excited to have him join our team and help us make Lawrence a community where all people feel safe and secure,” Owens said, referencing one of the focus areas in the City Commission’s recently completed strategic plan.

Lockhart, 53, previously served 26 years with the Kansas City, Missouri, police department before retiring from there in 2016. He then served as the police chief for the Warrensburg, Missouri, police department before accepting the position with the City of Lawrence.

In the release, Lockhart thanked Owens and members of the search committee for the opportunity and said he was looking forward to working with the Lawrence community and members of the Lawrence Police Department. Lockhart told the Journal-World Friday that he was excited when he learned earlier in the day that he had been selected for the position.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to lead a department like Lawrence and work with the members of the department to make Lawrence the safest and best community it can be,” Lockhart said.

When asked what issues were top of mind for him as he looks ahead to his new position, Lockhart said the first thing would be getting to know the community. Though he is familiar with Lawrence, he said he’d be getting to know his officers, the business community, the faith community and city leadership, among others, to figure out where work needs to be done.

Lockhart said one of the biggest areas he expected to address was the recently completed study of the Lawrence Police Department.

The Lawrence City Commission called for a review of the department in the wake of national and local calls for police reform and protests against police killings of Black people and other people of color. The commission ultimately agreed in October 2020 to pay the firm Citygate Associates $117,833 for a comprehensive study of the police department and the creation of a new master plan. The subsequent 132-page report, which the commission received in May of this year, included 60 findings and 75 recommendations. The creation of an implementation plan for the report’s recommendations is ongoing.

Lockhart said someone coming into the position of chief doesn’t always have such a resource to help them get started, and some of his biggest priorities would be trying to understand the issues the study identified and “mend some of the relationships” with the community, including with people of color.

“That needs work all the time, but more so over the last year and a half with George Floyd and the cries for police reform,” Lockhart said. “So definitely getting into those communities, trying to establish some trust. It’s something that we’ve done really well here in Warrensburg, and I think that some of the lessons learned here are things that I’ll be able to bring there and try and improve some of those relationships.”

One of the key findings highlighted by Citygate was that community listening sessions showed that people of color and other marginalized groups, in contrast to white participants, almost universally reported negative experiences with police, as the Journal-World reported. Black participants shared stories of unwarranted traffic stops, unprovoked harsh behavior and unjustified arrests.

The department has been run by two interim chiefs since the departure in May 2020 of Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr., the city’s first Black police chief. Burns stepped down just a few months after most members of the police union voted that they did not have confidence in his ability to lead the department. Specific reasons for the decision or the union’s vote were never publicly disclosed, and a separation agreement between Burns and the city included a “mutual non-disparagement” agreement and a $106,805 payment to Burns.

When asked about his strategy for taking over a department that has not had a permanent leader for a year and half, Lockhart said he thought the two interim chiefs had provided the department good leadership. He added that it would be important to ensure there was a good working relationship with the police union. As to whether he had any gauge on morale among officers at the department, Lockhart said officers seemed to be energized and dedicated to doing their work, but that police departments in general are always faced with morale issues.

“Right now it’s very tough to be a police officer in America, but I think that’s where we as police have to do that extra work and let folks know, ‘Hey, we understand where you’re coming from,'” Lockhart said. “And humanize us as much as we remember that we’re dealing with humans on the other side as well. And I think that’s where that understanding comes in and that’s where those relationships get stronger.”

As the Journal-World previously reported, Lockhart visited Lawrence on Nov. 18 for a meet-and-greet with the public at the Lawrence Public Library. Discussing some of his connections to Lawrence, he said he often visited Lawrence when he worked in Kansas City to “get out of the city.” He said he also sometimes did coursework in Lawrence when he was attending the University of Kansas Edwards Campus to earn his master’s degree in public administration.

Additionally, his wife, Laura, attended KU and they have a son who is a freshman at the university and plays in the band, which has also regularly brought them back to town. Lockhart previously said he was also attracted to the Lawrence position because of the size of the police department, which is larger than his current police department but smaller than his previous employer in Kansas City. Lockhart said Friday that he would be moving to Lawrence in January, and that his wife and two kids who are still in high school would be joining him once the school year was over.

The city hired national executive recruitment firm Ralph Andersen & Associates at a cost of $35,000 to lead the search for a new police chief, and a search committee and three interview panels helped evaluate the candidates. The interview panels consisted of community members, police and city staff. The salary range for the position was up to $189,608, with an expected starting salary of approximately $150,000, according to the city’s brochure for the position. City spokesman Porter Arneill said Lockhart’s salary would be $156,035.

As the Journal-World previously reported, 20 people applied for the position, two of whom withdrew after the initial screening process. From the remaining 18 candidates, two candidates were selected as finalists. But the second finalist, faced with the application becoming public, decided to withdraw from consideration.

Lockhart will begin on Jan. 16, 2022.


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