Shawnee city leaders share support of police, de-escalation policies following nationwide protests

Shawnee city leaders affirmed their support for the police department and thanked them for their professionalism in the community. File photo by Mike Frizzell.

In the wake of nationwide protests against police brutality, the Shawnee council, mayor and police chief on Monday reaffirmed the police department’s commitment to serve and protect while adhering to the highest standards of professionalism, including using de-escalation tactics and minimal force when arresting suspects.

Lately, residents have asked city leaders about the policies and conduct of Shawnee police officers. Mayor Michelle Distler broached the subject “in light of the current situation.”

“I’m incredibly proud of the proactive work our Shawnee Police Department does every day to treat everyone with respect while serving with purpose and care, and we’re committed to equal rights and fair treatment for all individuals,” Distler said, noting her appreciation for the work of peaceful protesters last weekend in front of city hall. “I know sometimes in Shawnee, because we have set the bar so high, we sometimes don’t realize how low it can be in other communities.”

Sam Larson, the city of Shawnee’s new chief of police. Larson said all police officers are trained in de-escalation.

Other councilmembers echoed the mayor’s comments in support of the police department. Councilmember Lisa Larson-Bunnell also asked about the department’s stance toward the #8CantWait campaign, a project by Campaign Zero that calls for eight policies such as banning chokeholds, requiring de-escalation and exhausting all alternatives before shooting.

Chief Sam Larson said the police department adheres to the standards of the campaign with some caveats. The department requires officers to use a minimal amount of force when arresting someone, to give a warning before shooting, and to exhaust all alternatives before shooting. Shawnee does not train officers on chokeholds and bans shooting at moving vehicles “except as a last resort,” he added.

If officers are in a deadly force situation, “we don’t want to restrict them if their life is on the line, we want them to do whatever they need to do to protect themselves or somebody else,” Larson said.

Below is a reference guide of the Shawnee Police Department on the #8CantWait campaign:

Larson said he is also exploring the idea of establishing a community involvement board, which would be tasked with formally reviewing complaints against the police department.

In the meantime, the police chief’s goal is to get 100% of the city’s police forces trained in crisis intervention within the next two years. Crisis Intervention Team training is a 40-hour course with Johnson County Mental Health and the Kansas Law Enforcement CIT Council, Larson said, noting that the training will provide officers with the tools to work with people in emotional crises.

“The goal of the CIT training is to reduce dangerous confrontations between citizens in crisis and law enforcement officers, and reduce recidivism and arrests by diverting individuals with mental illness to appropriate community mental health providers,” Larson said.

At least 60 Shawnee police officers have attended crisis intervention training, and 13 more were supposed to attend this year but cannot because the training was canceled due to COVID-19.

In an email after the meeting, Larson said he does not support initiatives to “fully defund police” and to “divest from police.”

A few additional statements from Distler on the Shawnee Police Department:

  • The Shawnee Police Department is accredited with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
  • The department’s policies are reviewed annually by an outside entity.
  • Shawnee police officers collect demographic data in written warnings and citations, and supervisors review reports where resistance occurred.
  • All police officers wear body cameras, and all patrol cars have in-car video systems.
  • Officers also receive about 160 hours of training annually, including for de-escalation and racial biased-based training. Racial profiling is prohibited by state law and internal policy.
  • The department has a full-time mental health co-responder from Johnson County Mental Health to assist with crises.