The software the city will lease with a U.S. Justice Department grant will track and catalog officers' training online, a capability the department has sought for several years.
(TNS) — Despite strenuous objections from the mayor, the Wichita City Council is diverting COVID-19 grant funding from hiring a pandemic-control officer to acquiring software to make sure cops don't cheat on their training.
The software the city will lease with the U.S. Justice Department grant will track and catalog officers' training online, a capability the department has sought for several years.
In May, the council earmarked about $250,000 from the grant to hire an emergency management coordinator to manage the police department's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Police reported Tuesday that they were unable to fill the two-year position and wanted to divert $165,000 to pay for three years licensing of a system called ACADIS.
The software will ensure officers watch their online video courses all the way through, said Capt. Lem Moore, commander of the department's training division.
"With this software, we're literally able to set up questions to where we know that officers are answering them and they're not cheating," he said.
The system's database also makes it much easier to access officers' records when members of the public request their training history, he said.
The department had advertised the position of COVID emergency manager and narrowed the list of applicants to two, said administrative division Capt. Dan East.
But neither would take the job, which was only guaranteed for two years, he said.
"The top two candidates . . . one never responded to a job offer and the second one accepted employment elsewhere," East said.
That got a rise from Mayor Brandon Whipple, who questioned how the software — which the department has wanted for more than 13 years — would meet federal grant conditions of helping the community "prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus."
"To date, in Sedgwick County, we are at 32,887 cases of the coronavirus; we have 282 deaths from the coronavirus," Whipple said.
He said the money could have been better spent to hire someone to act as a liaison with county and state government to create a more coordinated response to the viral pandemic.
"I just want to know, how is buying this software going to help prevent more cases?" he said.
He also questioned why city staff sat on the money for nine months before proposing an alternate use, now that vaccines are being distributed and the end of the pandemic appears to finally be in sight.
Moore said the software meets the grant conditions because so much of police training, including de-escalation of situations and proper use of force, has had to move online.
"All that training doesn't happen in the classroom anymore," he said.
City Manager Robert Layton said the Justice Department has indicated it would accept the expenditure as a valid COVID-related expense.
The vote on diverting the funding was 5-1 with Whipple dissenting.
Council member Cindy Claycomb said she felt the spending for the software was justified because "there are buckets of money from the federal government," each earmarked for different parts of the pandemic response.
She said the city tapped other grants to assist the community with problems worsened by the pandemic, such as supporting more shelter for the homeless and victims of domestic violence.
"This is Department of Justice, so it pretty much has to be spent on law enforcement activities," she said. "And I think that the police department went through a process to try to hire someone."
When that didn't come through, spending the money on software "seems like a reasonable explanation and substitution for me," she said.
©2021 The Wichita Eagle, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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