After three weeks of the topic being brought up during the public comment time at city commission meetings, the city of Salina hosted a forum on policing and race relations.


The meeting, which began at 6 p.m. Monday at Sams Chapel on the campus of Kansas Wesleyan University, was formatted so the city could respond to many of the concerns brought forward by the public and then have citizens give input and ask questions after the presentation in a listening session.


Salina Police Chief Brad Nelson spoke first, presenting policies of the Salina Police Department, including use of force, hiring and training of officers, the Law Enforcement Advisory Board and the department’s participation in the Federal 1033 Surplus program.


Use of force policy


Nelson said the department’s use of force policy has been in place for 25 years, although the current state of the policy is not the same as it was then.


"Our policies evolve over time," Nelson said. "There’s no doubt that there’s going to be policy changes because of recent world events and recent events that have happened in our own country."


He said the use of force policy is 13 pages long and has been reviewed during the department’s accreditation and by an outside agency as recently as 2017.


Nelson said that in 2019, Salina police officers arrested 2,277 people, with force options — anything from a wrist lock to using a firearm — used 167 times.


"That constitutes 7% of the time, we made arrests, force was used," Nelson said.


Nelson said officers in 2019 had over 45,000 interactions with citizens in Salina, meaning that in 0.37% of the times the department interacted with the public resulted in some kind of use of force.


During the listening session, the Rev. Dee Williamston asked whether officers are given psychological testing after a police shooting. Nelson said they are.


"They are immediately placed on administrative leave, an investigation is handled by an outside agency — normally the Kansas Bureau of Investigation — and placed on leave for a period of time before they are medically cleared, including psychological evaluation before they return to duty," Nelson said.


Military surplus program


Regarding the department’s use of the 1033 program, which allows law enforcement to receive surplus military equipment, Nelson said the Salina Police Department has used the program multiple times since its inception in 1993.


"The whole purpose of the military surplus program is to provide equipment to local law enforcement and save the city taxpayers money," Nelson said.


With the exception of an armored personnel carrier obtained in 2012, the department has returned every item back to the government, mostly because of the condition of the items.


"You don’t get to shop ... and pick out what you want," Nelson said. "You get what you get, and a lot of the stuff is so obsolete we get it and turn around and send it back."


Hiring practices and training


Nelson said the hiring process for the department is thorough and selective. Of the over 200 applications the department received in 2019, just over 100 took written exams, 49 passed the test and only 15 were hired.


Nelson said the state of Kansas mandates 560 hours of training before someone can become a law enforcement officer.


He said requirements for law enforcement training have come a long way in the 35 years since he began his career in Missouri.


"To put that in perspective, when I started, it was three weeks," Nelson said. "It was 120 hours and I was given a gun and the power to arrest."


Nelson said officers are also required to complete 40 hours of training each year, and if that is not done, the officer’s certification from the state is revoked.


"We have to train annually, be recertified annually on everything you see on our belt, (pepper spray), Taser, weapon, ASP (baton)," Nelson said. "Everything we have, we train and retrain, every year, because we understand it’s that important."


During the listening session, Darrel Wilson, a former Salina Police Department officer and Saline County sheriff, attested to the increase of requirements in training for law enforcement, saying his training in 1962 consisted mostly of riding along with an officer for a month.


"Then I was given the keys to a car and told, ’Go that way and stay in this area and that’s your job,’ " Wilson said.


Williamston asked what kind of psychological evaluations are conducted on applicants before they are hired and receive training.


"We do that in the work I do ... on all of our potential clergy," Willamston said. "I want to know if you do that with to police ... to see if there could be red flags, yellow flags, purple flags, whatever."


Nelson said applicants are given a psychological exam during the hiring process.


"There’s three options, either they’re recommended, not recommended or recommended with qualifications," Nelson said.


Funding of the department


One issue discussed in the listening session by several people was the budget of the police department.


A phrase that was used many times was "defunding the police." Mona Hargrave said she wanted to clarify what that means.


"The first thing that pops up on Google is that (it) means reallocating or redirecting funding away from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipalities," Hargrave said. "Defund does not mean abolish the police department."


She said that in Salina, that could look like taking some of the $10 million police budget and directing it toward mental health services or services that help people in poverty.


"By doing that, we’re actually going to make (officers’) jobs easier, because the police can’t go out there and be social workers," Hargrave said.


Parting words from the moderator


Pastor Stephen Davison, who moderated the forum, ended it by giving words of wisdom, as well as a little history.


He said that after slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, many were left homeless and without jobs, so they were rounded up and taken to jail by law enforcement on loitering charges, many times leased back to plantation owners by the county or state to work.


"Once that took place, Black people, in general, when they saw the police, that meant either I’m going to jail or I may lose my life," Davison said. "Over time that is what still stuck, because that is the story our grandparents and great-grandparents told us. Fifty years ago, my father had this conversation with me, he said, ’Son, this is going to get better,’ " Davison said. "I have a granddaughter that is 7 years old. In 50 years I don’t want to have sit in the audience or on the podium having this same discussion."


He said change starts with each individual as they look in the mirror.


"I think for each individual here, we want better for our children than we experienced," Davison said. "The only way (to do that) is we have to evaluate ourselves, see where the issue is and not be afraid to say, ’I was wrong,’ not be afraid to say, ’Wow, we can do something different.’ I think as a whole in Salina we have a good community, but if we want to be better, it changes with the man or the woman in the mirror."