At meet-and-greet, Lawrence police chief candidate says he has several connections to town, feels well-suited for job

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Journal-World

Rich Lockhart, the only finalist for the Lawrence police chief position, speaks to residents during a meet-and-greet at the Lawrence Public Library on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.

Despite spending his entire professional career in Missouri, Rich Lockhart said he has several connections to Lawrence.

During his career serving in the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department, Lockhart would often visit Lawrence 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, also attended KU and they now have a son who is a freshman at the university and plays in the band, which has also regularly brought them back to town.

“I’ve always liked Lawrence, and I’ve been a Jayhawk fan ever since I learned what a Jayhawk was,” Lockhart told the Journal-World during a meet-and-greet event Thursday evening.

Lockhart may soon be able to make his connection to Lawrence permanent if he is selected to become the next chief for the Lawrence Police Department. The City of Lawrence recently named him as the lone finalist candidate for the position, which has been open since May 2020.


City of Lawrence announces sole candidate for police chief; employment offer will be considered after public meet-and-greet

Lockhart, who is currently the police chief for the Warrensburg, Mo., Police Department, met with Lawrence residents and community members during a meet-and-greet at the Lawrence Public Library for the public to get to know him and for him to better understand Lawrence.

After meeting with several people, Lockhart said he recognized that Lawrence was an engaged community. He said that’s a good thing — whether the engagement is from residents who support the police or those who critique it and want it to be better — because it can help create a dialogue between the department and the community.

“I always tell people if I’m doing something and you don’t think it’s right, you need to tell me,” he said. “If we can come together and talk … then we create validation and understand each other’s perspective.”

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Journal-World

Interim Lawrence Police Chief Adam Heffley, right foreground, speaks to an individual while Rich Lockhart, finalist for the chief position, right background, speaks to resident Ron Wilson during a meet-and-greet on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.

While interested in the city of Lawrence, Lockhart said he was also attracted to the position because of the police department itself. He said he liked the size of LPD, which is larger than his current police department but smaller than his previous employer in Kansas City.

He said his ideal situation was a police department that’s big enough that he can lead it without being out in the street responding to calls himself but also small enough that he can manage the internal politics.

“That’s what was attractive about Warrensburg,” Lockhart said of his current department. “Lawrence is similarly situated. It’s a bigger department and, as a chief, moving into an agency that has more resources is really a big deal.”

Lockhart said he felt he was well-suited to take over LPD because of his experience in Warrensburg, specifically his ability to lead people and build trust within a community.

At least one of the residents who attended the event said he felt confident that could be achieved. Stephen Ruttinger told the Journal-World he was impressed by Lockhart’s focus on community policing, which includes the police being active members of the community rather than just officers who hand out tickets and make arrests.

“You’ve got to integrate into the community, and (I) think he has that skill set,” Ruttinger said.

Working with the community was also part of the job description. In the brochure advertising the position, the city specifically noted that it was looking for a police chief who was “fully fluent” in the topics of police reform and oversight that have dominated a national conversation in recent years.

A main catalyst for that conversation was the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., at the hands of a police officer. That officer, Derek Chauvin, was later convicted of murder.

Lockhart said when those types of events happen throughout the country, he reflects and considers if such issues could arise in his department and if changes are necessary. An example would be to consider making policy changes to address those types of issues. He said the policies should not only reflect the values of the department, but also the community as a whole.

“That’s the big key here when we talk about racial justice and social justice,” he said. “As a police department, we can’t tell our community how we are going to police. We need to work with them to develop a model of policing that fits the community.”

It’s unclear when the city may announce whether Lockhart will be selected for the position. The meet-and-greet was also meant to serve as an opportunity for City Manager Craig Owens to receive feedback from the community. The police chief reports to the city manager, and the final hiring decision is made by the city manager and does not require City Commission approval.

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

The Lawrence Police 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, who 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, as the Journal-World previously reported. 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.

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