Local black officers talk rights, community policing at BSU meeting


Daniel Caudill

Sgt. Kevin Hawkins of the Wichita State University Police Department speaks Wednesday at the Black Student Union’s biweekly meeting. He was one of three local black officers to speak about community policing, rights and how to interact with officers.

The black community’s experience with law enforcement is different from most other groups, said Captain Wendell Nicholson, bureau commander of the Wichita Police Department’s South Patrol.

“We all got that talk from our parents about what to do when you come in contact with the police,” Nicholson said Wednesday to a crowd of primarily black students at the Black Student Union’s bi-weekly meeting. “Who had that talk?”

A bulk of the hands in the audience shot up.

And that’s part of the reason Nicholson and two other local black officers visited the BSU to educate students about their rights, community policing, and how to interact with police.

The presentation was developed in part by NOBLE, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. The group was established in 1966 and aims to fight racism in the criminal justice system.

Aside from the educational aspect of their presentation, the officers said they hoped their visit could serve as a way to engage black youth in the community.

“If anybody in here would like to join NOBLE as a collegiate student, you can join for free this year,” said Sgt. Kevin Hawkins of the Wichita State University Police Department. “And I can tell you the resources you will have at your fingertips are immense.”

Officers took questions from audience members, and involved students in staging scenarios in which someone might interact with a law enforcement official — like a traffic stop.

Daniel Caudill
Sgt. Kevin Hawkins of the Wichita State University Police Department, left, and Capt. Wendell Nicholson of the Wichita Police Department demonstrate how to interact with a police officer Wednesday at the Black Student Union’s biweekly meeting. They were two of three local black officers to speak about community policing, rights and how to interact with officers.

Students were taught proper etiquette when interacting with the police, as well as the options they have if they feel a police has behaved inappropriately — such as contacting a supervisor or filing a formal complaint.

“If you encounter some of our officers and they are acting how they aren’t supposed to be acting, we want to know about that,” said Nicholson, who is also president of the Wichita chapter of NOBLE. “But retain your composure and conduct yourself in a mature manner. Avoid any action or language that might trigger a more volatile situation — possibly endangering your life or personal wellbeing.”

 ‘Someone who looks like me’

One person in attendance at the presentation was Jayla Spann, a junior criminal justice major who hopes to enter the law enforcement industry after college. She’s also BSU’s event coordinator.

Spann said it was meaningful to hear from black officers, and she believes representation of minority groups in law enforcement is essential.

“Right now, there is a high percentage of black people in prisons and dealing with mass incarceration,” Spann said, “so I think it’s important for a black woman like myself to be in law enforcement because . . . I believe to make change, you have to incorporate yourself in the change.”

BSU President Jadyn Stutey said it’s important for everyone, especially young black people, to know their rights and how to exercise them.

“We’re caught in a lot of situations where you’re not really knowing what to do or you feel threatened by police,” Stutey said. “You don’t know if you’re going to get shot or if you’re going to be able to go home, so it’s nice to get that information from people who look like us.”

The event was held after two officer-involved shootings with black victims in Texas have grabbed national headlines.

One case involved a former police officer who shot and killed Dallas resident Botham Jean in his own apartment last year, saying she believed it was her own home at the time. The officer was sentenced for murder this month.

On Monday, a Fort Worth police officer was arrested and charged with murder after reportedly shooting resident Atatiana Jefferson through her window while on scene for a wellness check.

“It’s a helpful experience getting knowledge from someone who looks like me, especially in a collegiate setting where most of your professors are probably white or another ethnicity,” Stutey said. “So it’s nice to hear from someone face-to-face that looks like you and still faces the same discrimination when they take their uniform off at the end of the day.”