Wichita will remove 3,517 names from gang list after lawsuit. Here’s what else it will do


A constitutional challenge to the Wichita Police Department’s gang list will result in at least two-thirds of the people on the list being removed immediately.

The 3,517 people previously classified as “inactive gang members” and “gang associates” will be struck from the list under a settlement agreement approved by the City Council this week, meaning they legally can no longer be subjected to heightened police scrutiny and harsher punishments.

Under the supervision of a court-appointed special master, police will also be required to conduct an annual audit of the 1,728 people designated as “active gang members” to determine whether they meet a stricter criteria to qualify for inclusion in the gang list and its corresponding database.

“The settlement isn’t perfect. We certainly think it’s an improvement on the current state of affairs,” said Kunyu Ching, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Kansas, which, along with Kansas Appleseed, brought the legal challenge to Wichita’s gang policy on behalf of juvenile justice advocacy group Progeny.

Sixty percent of people on the gang list are Black and 25% are Hispanic. Only 6% are white. Under the policy in place before the settlement, police had broad authority to identify people as gang members based on such arbitrary factors as where they live, what color clothing they wear, where they shop or buy gas and who they are photographed with.

“It is so inflammatory and so unjust for you as a young person to not be able to be around your peers or to be able to go into a house of a relative or to decipher to coordinate your clothes — I just want to match my clothes — and be labeled a gang member,” said Marquetta Atkins-Woods, executive director of Progeny.

She said her own son was once stopped by police as he was walking back to school from their house during a lunch period. They wanted to know where he was going and what gang he was affiliated with.

“Systemically, Black and Brown kids are profiled,” Atkins-Woods said. “Their communities are overpoliced, and they are put in these boxes just because of who they are.”

Once on the list, members are subjected to frequent stops and searches over minor traffic infractions, and have a minimum $50,000 bail if charged with a violent crime and longer sentences in higher-security prisons if convicted.

City Attorney Jennifer Magaña told council members Tuesday that “WPD’s [gang] database serves as an important criminal intelligence function and allows police to act in a proactive way to solve crime.”

For someone to qualify for the list now, they must be observed engaging in criminal gang behavior or self-identify as a gang member.

“This mediated agreement is intended to protect the constitutional rights of the citizens of Wichita and allow law enforcement to conduct effective investigations for public safety,” city spokesperson Megan Lovely said in an emailed statement.

A Wichita Police Department spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.


For the first time, people placed on the gang list will have the right to know they have been included and the right to challenge that designation under the settlement agreement, which still needs a federal judge’s signature before it can go into effect.

The city will have up to 30 days to respond when someone submits a request asking whether they are included in the gang database. Attorneys and legal guardians can also request this information.

If police think a person between ages 13 and 17 meets the criteria to be put on the list, they must notify their parents or guardians and give them an opportunity to enter into an intervention agreement that, if upheld, will prevent inclusion on the list.

“When a person over the age of 18 is identified as a criminal street gang member and added to the WPD Gang Database, a supervisor from the Gang/Felony Assault Section will send a written notification to that individual at their last known address,” the agreement states.

Police must also explain the criteria used to justify their inclusion and provide instructions for challenging the designation, which involves submitting an appeal request to a City Council-appointed “gang review ombudsperson.”

That person, who must be a licensed attorney or former federal judge qualified to access the Kansas Criminal Justice Information System, will review all available information and issue a written decision in any appeal case. If gang member status is upheld, it can be appealed every 18 months.

People included on the list can also request to review any physical documentation used to support their classification as a gang member, but WPD can deny the request “if it would risk revealing or compromising confidential sources, impede or risk impeding law enforcement activities, risk endangerment of a person, or as otherwise restricted by law.”


The agreement calls for Paul Gurney, a former Johnson County federal district court judge, to serve as special master, ensuring that the Wichita Police Department lives up to the standards of the settlement over the next three years. The City Council voted to authorize $75,000 in payment for the special master.

“The changes, unless they’re actually carried out, they could just be words, right?” said Teresa Woody, litigation director at Kansas Appleseed. “But this [special master] really ensures that there’s a mechanism for a third party to review what’s going on, to see that WPD is changing the way it trains its officers, is changing the way it interacts with the members of the community.”

Every six months, the special master will conduct a review of training materials, appeals and new additions to the gang list, issuing a report on WPD’s performance to the plaintiffs and their attorneys. Woody said she is unsure if that report will be made public.

If the department fails to conform to the agreement, the plaintiffs’ attorneys will have the right to extend the time of the agreement or to request court intervention.

As part of its annual audit of gang list members, the city will be required to report aggregate data on the age, race and number of people removed from the list and the same information for those whose status as a gang member is upheld.

Ching said the additional oversight will discourage discriminatory policing practices that have selectively targeted minority populations in the past.

“The most effective policing is policing that complies with the law, and that includes specifically the supreme law of the land, which is the Constitution,” she said.

The settlement agreement does not require any change to the state law that empowered Wichita police to classify people as gang members without notifying them of their status as a criminal. The agreement does preserve attorneys’ right to challenge that law in the future.

“We’re very hopeful that seeing the changes that this required, the legislature will take a look at this and understand on its own that what it has on the books is not constitutional and needs to be changed,” Woody said.

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Wichita Eagle