WPD: A precedent for solidarity in Wichita

Sergeant Vanessa Rusco and Sergeant Don Kimball at 2017 Wichita Pride. Photo by Robin Dorner.

by Kara Kliewer
Staff Writer

“Historically, the relationship between law enforcement and the LGBTQ community has been one of suspicion and mistrust,” says Don Kimball, a sergeant with the Wichita Police Department (WPD). “When I was hired on, being gay was not something you revealed to just anyone. It could stifle one’s career.

“Today however, and with younger officers in particular, it really is a non-issue.”

In the summer of 2016, WPD Chief Gordon Ramsay attended a candlelight vigil held in honor of the victims of the Pulse night club shooting. Following this, Kimball sent an email thanking Ramsay for attending. After some correspondence, Ramsay decided to create LGBTQ liaison positions for his department.

Sergeant Vanessa Rusco and Sergeant Don Kimball filled these positions.

“Our duties include connecting with organizations, businesses and individuals of the LGBTQ community to ensure that they have access to all of the services our department provides,” adds Kimball.

“We want to foster positive relationships between the department and members of the LGBTQ community by educating the community about the police department and by developing and providing training for the department on LGBTQ related topics.”

This summer, nearly a year after the creation of the positions, both sergeants were recognized for their work and were selected 2017 Grand Marshalls of Wichita Pride. These designations were chosen as the LGBT+ community in Wichita recognized how impactful the sergeants’ work is.

“When the Board of Wichita Pride selects our Grand Marshals, we look for someone who has made a difference in our community,” asserts Wichita Pride president, Travis Hooper.

“Over the last year both Sgt. Rusco and Sgt. Kimball have worked tirelessly to make sure they met with all of the LGBT+ organizations and have been very available to us when we needed their assistance.

“The simple fact that Chief Ramsay recognized the need for liaisons for our community was a huge step. Under Ramsay's predecessor we were basically invisible. Rusco and Kimball have changed that and made our community feel valued and included.”

Rusco notes, “I believe because of the relationship Sgt. Kimball and I have established in the LGBT community, there is more transparency than ever before.”

Kimball adds, “it is significant that we have had these assignments for just at a year now and we have been invited to several events and meetings.

“For example, we have been invited to several events for Wichita Prime Timers and Pride. It was quite an honor for us to have participated in the Pride parade as Grand Marshals.”

Furthermore, these sergeants have encountered so much success as they often go above their designated duties to better connect with the LGBT+ community.

“We often work well beyond our normal hours and on our days off to attend events, meetings and make connections for and with the LGBTQ community,” says Kimball.

While the sergeants have already established a strong presence in the community, they seek to accomplish even more in the coming years.

Recently, the WPD partnered with Starbuck’s Coffee to begin a SAFE HARBOR initiative. The program “provides for a safe place of refuge for anyone who may be a victim of anti-LGBTQ harassment or crime,” explains Kimball.

Police-citizen relationships seem often strained, specifically when it comes to minority groups. These two sergeants are making efforts to connect with their community members.

Due to the examples set by Kimball and Rusco, perhaps other police departments will follow in establishing special outreach positions so minority groups across the country can maintain positive relationships with police.

“I would love to continue to see the open dialogue with the LGBTQ community and the police department,” says Rusco. “I believe with the vision and leadership of Chief Gordon Ramsay the trust between the law enforcement and the LGBTQ community will continue to flourish and grow in the right direction.”

Copyright The Gayly – October 10, 2017 @ 9:45 a.m. CDT.