Lack of trust in police chiefs
NOTE: This article was turned in as a class assignment and was never published in any publications.
The first African American police chief in Lawrence since the 1890s does not have his staff’s confidence in fulfilling his duty.
In February, 92 of the Union’s 100 members answered no to the following statement in regards to Police Chief Gregory Burns, while seven abstained and only one person voted yes, according to the Lawrence Journal-World, who first broke the story.
“I have confidence in Chief Gregory Burns Jr.’s ability to effectively administer, manage and lead the Lawrence Police Department.”
The reasoning for the vote was vague and only one member of city personnel, City Manager Craig Owens, sat down with the Journal-World to comment on it. He cited a “lack of direction” and “problems within communications” as reasons for unrest within the Lawrence Police Department, according to the Journal-World.
Burns, a police chief of color, currently leads a department of 86.5% white officers, according to a demographics report from the City of Lawrence.
The number of black or African American officers is much lower, at 4.25%, according to the same report. That number is also less than the total percentage of black or African American citizens in Lawrence, the same people Burns is representing.
The number of black representation from the police department has not always been so low. In 2014, 5.2% of officers were black or African American instead of the current 4.5%, according to a benchmark city survey compiled by the Overland Park, Kansas Police Department.
As the number of black police officers went down, so did confidence in Lawrence’s first African American Police Chief.
The Lawrence Police Officers’ Association did not dispel any concerns that racial issues are part of the union’s concerns with Burns’s leadership, according to the Journal-World.
Controversy, disagreement and scrutiny is not uncommon to police chiefs in any state. Some, such as police chief Ramon Batista, who condemned six officers for repeatedly punching an unarmed black man, receive the no confidence vote simply for speaking up.
“Perhaps one of the biggest things to remember is, as a police chief, you are constantly in the public eye,” according to Saint Leo University, which offers programs for police chief training. “While this is great because it gives your community’s law-abiding citizens someone to turn to in their time of need, it can also be daunting because the criminals know who you are as well.”
But although scrutiny is a part of the job, a Google search reveals that Burns is not the only police chief of color to have lost confidence in his staff.
In their first no confidence vote in 100 years, 94 percent of Denver’s police union voted with no confidence in chief Robert White, according to the Denver Post. White and the union’s relationship was especially tense because he was unable to provide the union with a letter critical of Denver’s mayor and because he rendered aid to a driver who hit his police SUV, according to the Post.
The police chief of color later resigned from his position and in a video interview, said he would never work as a police chief again.
Another police chief of color, Allwyn Brown, who spearheaded the Richmond Police Department in California, quit his job days after the police union voted 117-19 in favor of no confidence regarding his performance in his job.
The vote came after the release of a third-party report criticizing the police department’s management, widespread morale and poor communication from the top, according to the Mercury News.
A police chief not of color also had a no confidence vote against him. 80% of police officers in the Simsbury Police Department Chief Nicholas Boulter voted they had no confidence in him in the police chief, according to reporting from the Hartford Courant.
But unlike Burns, White or Brown, the police commission supported Boulter, despite the vote. Commissions supported the chief not of color, but not the African American chiefs.
Though little evidence exists online regarding black police chiefs, David P. Taylor of Nova Southeastern University looked into blacks in policing and organizational change in a dissertation proposal in 2018.
Taylor also found that the research on black police chiefs is very scarce, as policing was a field of white employment until the 1960s.
As of now, Burns is staying put in his job, despite his staff’s lack of confidence in him, according to the Journal-World’s reporting.
But the reasons for the no confidence vote are still mostly hidden. And whether or not Burns will join the Denver and Richmond black police chiefs in resigning is unclear.