Lawrence Police Department’s first-ever leader of diversity and community engagement wants to turn words into actions
photo by: Lawrence Police Department
Lawrence Police Chief Rich Lockhart has created the first-ever position in his department focused on diversity and community relationships, and he did it with the intention of minimizing “blind spots.”
The new job — titled executive officer for diversity and community engagement — isn’t to address a specific problem but instead to ensure that there’s always a pair of eyes on issues that might otherwise go unseen. The eyes that Lockhart has chosen to keep watch belong to Lt. Myrone Grady, a 19-year veteran of LPD.
“Lt. Grady has been here for a long time and is very tuned in to issues related to diversity and fairness and inclusion,” Lockhart said. “Having someone who has that as a part of their everyday duties, to me, was really important.”
Grady said the new job came as a bit of a surprise — but a welcome one. The position is a part of a reorganization at LPD, said Grady, who described Lockhart’s vision as a kind of re-imagining of policing in Lawrence. Lockhart took over as chief in January following a long period of interim leadership after embattled Chief Gregory Burns resigned in May 2020.
As a lieutenant, Grady has spent the last couple of years in an administrative role in the patrol division at the department. His new position will mean less time behind a desk and more opportunities to get face to face with Lawrence residents.
“People are sick of talking … there hasn’t been enough doing,” Grady said. “I am about trying to do something.”
Engaging the community should be the straightforward part of the job, Grady said; the complex, nuanced part will be diversity.
“That’s multifaceted, like an onion. I can’t give a cookie-cutter answer to what diversity is,” Grady said.
But he knows that officers should be relatable to those they are interacting with, especially if they are interacting over difficult or emotional subject matter, he said.
“Understanding that when people are venting they are not mad at you — they just want you to validate their opinions and their feelings, and once we can do that we can start to have meaningful conversations,” Grady said.
Grady said he would be looking outward, to the community and to how it perceives the police, and inward, to the officers and how they perceive their jobs. He envisions a lot of conversations on both fronts, but at the end of the day he wants to transform those conversations into action.
Within the department, Grady hopes to connect with recruiters to identify why the department hasn’t employed many women of color.
“I’ve been here for 19 years, and we have had one Black female officer complete the police academy,” Grady said. “Looking back on how tough it may have been for me as a male, just having a different mindset, different opinions, different outlook on things, it took a long time for me to break down some barriers, so I can only imagine what it would have been like for her.”
Grady said it was important to identify barriers that keep people from applying and/or succeeding. He said women of color on the force could have made a big difference on many fronts in the past two decades, and their absence was a failure that must be remedied.
Grady has held a number of positions with LPD, but the one that really changed his perspective on policing was being a school resource officer from 2008 to 2012 at South Middle School and Lawrence High School.
“Going into the schools was the best thing that ever happened to my career because it allowed me to do law enforcement in a bit of a different way,” Grady said.
photo by: Mark Fagan
His work at the schools showed him that the job involved so much more than catching “bad guys.” He learned that he could also be a highly useful resource to all of the students, parents and school staff he was working with.
“If you need me, call me. I don’t always have the right answer, but I’ll always take the call,” Grady said.
Grady will have three SROs under his command through the summer to help him better engage with the community. A fourth resource officer would normally join the team, but she is currently on maternity leave, Grady said.
The SRO team is just part of the plan, he said. He noted that the department is already filled with men and women who are visible in the community as coaches, church group members and scout leaders, but intentionally targeting community engagement will give those officers a chance to do those things in a more official capacity, he said.
“There will always be people who don’t mind doing these things, and having a division that is devoted to that gives people an opportunity to do more,” Grady said.
Another task that Lockhart has given Grady is to find someone to be the department’s official LGBTQIA liaison. The department has a number of people who are a part of the LGBTQIA community, and creating a dedicated position to support those individuals in the department and in the community is an idea that many officers responded to positively, he said.
“I was pleasantly surprised, if not utterly shocked. There were people who responded that I didn’t think would be interested in having those conversations or learning more about that,” Grady said.
One role Grady envisions for the liaison is taking a visible role when the community has gay pride events.
“Making sure that they know we are there to serve them and be there for them and that we want to be part of the solution and help events go off without a hitch” would be the goal, he said, and “if people don’t want us there … maybe sometimes abide by that. Even when you have good intentions you can still make mistakes.”
Grady started his new job this week. Some of his first duties will be to “take a diagnostic” of the department as a whole and to start making recommendations that can result in positive action.
“I think we have the people to do it, and I think that we have a chief that wants that done. So when the boss wants it done and is going to give you the opportunity to do it, then it’s up to us to rise to the occasion,” Grady said.