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10/11 NOW talks with LPD Chief Teresa Ewins about diversity, transparency and accountability

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 6:46 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - In the search for a new Lincoln Police Chief, the community made priorities known. One of the top was recruiting a diverse and well qualified police department.

The Mayor’s pick, Teresa Ewins, told 10/11 NOW she has experience doing so. She comes from the San Francisco Police Department, which she said is one of the most diverse in the country.

“I’m really looking for people who speak foreign languages,” Ewins said. “I really want diversity, gender is very important.”

As of a public records request 10/11 received from the Lincoln Police Department in February, the LPD’s officers were 91% white and 82% male. Ewins said she’s not going to set specific percentage goals.

“We need to find the most qualified and the most diverse,” Ewins said.

The department’s Spring 2021 recruit class was mostly white, but had more females. The San Francisco Police Department, is much more diverse culturally, but has a similar number of female officers.

“The San Francisco Police Department did a really great job in recruiting diversity and we are finally there,” Ewins said. “It’s one of the most diverse departments but it does take time and it does take financial ability.”

But Ewins said it’s important to work towards that.

“They [the community] needs to see someone that mirrors them. Whether it be the Black community, the Hispanic community. It’s important for someone to be able to speak with someone who speaks their language because there’s more trust. So it does help us but we have to do it in a thoughtful way.

Her strategies for recruitment include using officers as the best recruitment tool.

“We need to be direct about bringing women in, and sending out women to recruit women,” she said.

Another is going straight to the athletic departments of local colleges and universities.

“Not everyone can be a pro-athlete,” Ewins said. “But they know how to work as a team and that is extremely important.”

The San Francisco Police Department also publicizes the statistics of applicants and analyzes reasons why certain candidates didn’t make it through the application process. She said that’s a strategy they could employ in Lincoln as an additional recruitment strategy.

Ewins also said once they get those candidates in the door, they need to work to recruit them. There are currently two female officers suing the department, alleging discrimination.

Ewins said she’s looking at policies and management.

“I won’t stand for anybody treating anyone else badly or disrespectfully. No, it’s not going to happen,” Ewins said.

Another priority for Lincoln, was ensuring the police department is transparent and accountable for it’s actions.

Chief Ewins said she’s working to make sure Lincoln can trust LPD.

“When you break the trust of the community it takes a long time to regain that trust,” Ewins said. “All of us know that.”

She said to make sure the department’s policies are in line with the community’s goal, she’s starting by interviewing leadership and examining policies. She said she’ll be reviewing body camera footage policies to ensure uses of force are in line with training.

“If we see that people aren’t de-escalating in a manner within policy, then we need to retrain,” she said.

Ewins also said if an incident ever does happen, the department will be transparent, potentially releasing body camera footage. The Lincoln Police Department has never released footage following an incident.

“We’re not going to hide behind it,” Ewins said. “We’re not going to wait for it to fester in social media or the media. We’re going to get ahead of it. Accountability is everything.”

Ewins also said part of that is managing internal biases and disparities in arrests.

“I did all reform in San Francisco in regards to bias so that is near and dear to me and data is so important and listening to the community is also essential. If people feel they’re not being treated fairly they should be able to talk to us about that and there is a process to file complaints.”

Ewins also said an effort she’ll employ here is taking a look at where and why officers are sent to certain parts of town to do enforcement efforts.

“I learned some very important lessons in San Francisco in regards to that,” she said.

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