In response to DA’s criticism over use of the word ‘criminals,’ Lawrence police chief expresses pride in his department

photo by: Youtube/City of Lawrence

Lawrence Police Chief Rich Lockhart at a City Commission meeting on Aug. 2, 2022 at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth Street.

In response to a statement from the Douglas County district attorney criticizing police for using the word “criminals” in social media posts, Lawrence Police Chief Rich Lockhart on Thursday — in a two-sentence statement — said he valued transparency and was proud of the professionals in his department.

“Our team is committed to transparency as part of our ongoing efforts to build trust with our community,” he said in a brief news release. “I am extremely proud of the professional men and women in our department who work hard to help keep us all safe and secure every day.”

Lockhart did not further address Valdez’s criticism.

On Wednesday, as the Journal-World reported, Valdez sent out a press release denouncing police use of the word “criminal.”

Though Valdez did not specify a particular video, social media comments accompanying a video Monday of an alleged shooting incident in downtown Lawrence used the word “criminals.” The video, on Facebook and Twitter, showed two teenagers being arrested after one of them allegedly fired a gun at people out of the window of a moving car. The text accompanying the video, which has no audio, reads: “Criminals: Please do not run. Do not drive by an officer while shooting a gun and hanging out the window. We will catch you. We will arrest you.”

Valdez, who said she was concerned about preserving the integrity of ongoing investigations, denounced the use of the word “criminals” to describe the people depicted in police videos. She also said that police videos do not always show an incident in its entirety, indicating that the police videos are “often edited such that they are not representative.”

“By law, despite what may be circulating across social media or in the press, the individuals depicted in those recordings remain innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law, not a court of public opinion,” Valdez said in the release.

As the Journal-World reported, Valdez’s office charged the two teenagers in the aforementioned video with aggravated assault. One of the teens was also charged with felony flee and elude.

Valdez said that while she respected law enforcement, “the District Attorney’s Office, not law enforcement, decides what charges are appropriate to file under existing Kansas law.”

Lockhart started as police chief in January, taking over a department that had been led by interim leaders for nearly two years after the former chief, Gregory Burns Jr., stepped down, following an overwhelming police union vote – 92 of 100 voters — of “no confidence” in Burns. In the eight months since Lockhart took the helm, he has reiterated his commitment to community and internal police relations and what he has called “reimagining policing” in Lawrence. Earlier this summer, as the Journal-World reported, he created the department’s first-ever position focused on diversity and community relations. He also banned no-knock warrants and a controversial style of chokehold, in an effort to “foster trust with the community.”

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