Your Turn: City did not treat our police chief fairly

Several months have passed since the controversial departure of our former police chief Gregory Burns, who in fact was Lawrence’s first-ever African American police chief. We are still greatly disturbed by many unanswered questions surrounding his departure.

We understand that the duties of a police chief are extensive and demanding, as they are responsible for coordinating the operations of a police department. They include executing responsibilities such as staffing, budgeting, operation management and public relations. Chief Burns clearly validated himself as a competent and effective leader of the Lawrence Police Department, and it is our understanding that Chief Burns handled these responsibilities with care and great success.

Chief Burns was visible in the community by getting to know the people he served, and challenged his police officers to do the same in order to build trust in the community. It is our understanding that Chief Burns worked to improve accountability, along with adding diversity within the hiring and promotion of officers within the department, which we believe was not embraced. From all indications, he was doing a good job and moving the department forward into a better relationship with all people in our community.

In an article in the Journal-World, it was reported there had been a secret meeting where the union took a no-confidence vote in Chief Burns. This was a shock to us. The vote taken by the union was not to be made public; however, the Journal-World found out about it and published it. The union’s actions were very degrading and misled the public concerning Chief Burns and the situation at hand.

We are also dissatisfied with the manner in which the city leadership handled this situation. Were they influenced by the undesirable and unacceptable behavior of members of the Lawrence police force? Further, we believe the motivation behind the no-confidence vote was driven by behavior contrary to the call to service.

We are highly offended and disappointed by the way city officials treated a man with over a quarter century of outstanding experience and accolades. A man with an impeccable professional career was unjustly shrouded in a cloud of suspicion. Actions taken by city leadership have severed the bond of trust with us and this community. His pressured resignation and the lack of transparency in the process is shameful and reflects negatively upon this community and the city of Lawrence. Is this another example of the racial injustice and inequality prevalent in our country today?

So, we look now to the future. It is our hope that the next police chief that is chosen, regardless of ethnicity, will be a man or woman of character and valor just like Chief Burns. There is no doubt that we need men and women of character and integrity who are willing to step out of the police cruiser and into a genuine embrace of the Lawrence community.

Also, as we move forward to find the permanent replacement for the police chief position, please know that we also need men and women of color on all boards, committees and commissions that are working with or tied to the Lawrence Police Department.

— Leo Barbee Jr. is the senior pastor at Victory Bible Church in Lawrence and also is the president of The Ecumenical Fellowship. In addition, the following area pastors have signed Barbee’s statement: Bill Dulin, Eric Galbreath, Jessie Hunter, Verdell Taylor, Gary Anderson and Berlin LeFlore.


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