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· Captain Richard Wickliffe
Giving, Not Taking ·
People who know Richard Wickliffe remark about how he’s always calm. I’ve never seen him upset. So, when we sat down together for an interview, I had to see if he would share his secret. And while I was at it, maybe I’d also learn how a guy who retired from the Hutchinson Police Department (HPD) in 2001 at age 64, still looks young enough to be running marathons.
Richard, a/k/a/ “Wick”, didn’t reveal his secret of eternal youth but he did explain that being concerned doesn’t mean you have to be excited. “If you stay calm, you can realize more things,” he said. When Wick showed me a newspaper clipping about his retirement, sure enough, the headline proclaimed, “‘Unflappable’ Wickliffe retiring.” Dick Heitschmidt, the police chief at the time, remarked, “He’s a calm man who thinks very well under pressure, and he’s a very personable guy with probably the best people skills in the department.”
Wickliffe said he “was no spring chicken when he joined HPD” at age 31. He had already served three years in the US Army, the armored infantry, being stationed overseas in Germany. After that, he had worked seven years at Carey Salt sacking the salt and loading it onto railroad cars and trucks.
Due to the influence of well-respected HPD officer Robbie Robinson, Wick changed careers. Robinson “talked me into going down to apply,” remembers Wickliffe. Richard explained why he was hesitant: “I thought I’d have to quit all the fun things I used to do. I’d go down to the beer joint and hang out, but never got in trouble.” It turned out, PD allowed socializing as long as officers stayed out of trouble.
The police department had a four-beat system for calls and a fifth car to respond as an over rider. There was one officer per car unless a recruit was in training. And the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center was just getting established, so training was done in-house. The department worked eight-hour shifts.
Early on, Wick was assigned to the south part of town since that’s where he lived. Since he knew a lot of people, it was helpful. He, like many officers, wanted to get on Robinson’s detail because they wanted to learn his way of doing things. “Robbie was pretty calm,” remembered Wickliffe.
Wick recalled one arrest he made around 8th and Plum. “There was a white guy who I wasn’t going to arrest but he gave me so much mouth that I put him under arrest.” He kept after me, “I want to see your supervisor! Who’s your boss?”
Interrupting, I laughed and agreed. “Yeah, some people don’t seem to understand that you can talk yourself into a ticket and into going to jail.”
“Okay, you’ll see him but you’re still under arrest,” continued Wickliffe. “He couldn’t wait to see my supervisor. I didn’t tell him anything. I wanted him to be shocked.”
Finally, at the station, Lt. Robinson, a black man, not the expected white one, walked into the room and met the arrestee. I can only imagine the fun Wickliffe and Robinson must have had when the lieutenant asked the unhappy customer, “What’s the problem?”
Wickliffe recalled the night of September 15, 1972 when HPD Officer Kenneth Kennedy, 23 years old, was shot and killed while making an undercover buy of alcohol in a bootlegging and gambling operation at Robert E. Lee’s Barbeque, 918 S. Plum. Michael Coldren, a reserve officer who was working with Kennedy, was shot and wounded. Wickliffe was one of the first officers at the scene and transported Coldren to the hospital. The shooter, a women friend of the seller of the alcohol, was wounded from Kennedy’s return fire. In 1973 she was convicted of second degree murder and aggravated assault and sentenced to two 15-year-to-life sentences.
Officers dealt with Kennedy’s death in different ways, recalled Wickliffe. “Some of them were very shook about it. They’d drive out at night and wait for calls.”
I’d heard stories that the Hutchinson Police Department’s station and city jail was in pretty bad shape prior to its move to the current Law Enforcement Center (210 W 1st) in 1971. In fact, one local attorney called it a “medieval bastille.” The chief at that time couldn’t disagree.
Wickliffe told me that the old police station was on B street (16 East Ave B). There was a jail at the back. It was a big bull pen that held drunks. (Females had individual cells but you had to go outside to access that area.) “For minor crimes we’d arrest them and book them there at the police department and then put them in the holding cell”, said Wickliffe. “Major crimes we took to the county jail at the court house. On the misdemeanor arrests, the people could bond out or wait until the next day to see the judge. Municipal Court was in the front of the building.”
Every officer or former officer remembers a special arrest. Wickliffe recalls an armed robbery that occurred in 1970 at a McDonald’s Drive-in (20 W 4th) where one of the two men shot off a round to get the manager to hurry up and open the safe. The Wichita criminals were also overheard discussing whether to kill the witnesses, but they decided to leave without murdering anyone. Within fifteen minutes of the robbery being reported to the police, Wickliffe, northbound on Adams, spotted a car facing west on 7th that made a left turn onto Adams.
Wickliffe recalled, “I was close enough to the suspect vehicle to see the driver make an ‘oh, shit’ facial expression—as he turned to go south on Adams. I turned my patrol vehicle around on Adams and was able to see a Sedgwick County tag on the suspect vehicle. Then I made a felony traffic stop in the 600 block of north Adams.”
The driver jumped out to talk to Wickliffe to try and keep the officer away from the suspicious vehicle. Since Wick had a reserve officer with him, the second officer checked the car for additional people. The second robber was laying on the passenger’s front floorboard, at first trying to hide, but then saying he was sick. When the officers got him out, a .38 caliber gun and a brown paper bag of stolen money was visible on the floorboard.
Wickliffe told me how today’s new chief, Jeffrey Hooper, has all his officers involved in community policing, not just one designated unit. Wick recalled when he headed a community policing unit that worked out of an office at the Hutchinson Mall. Chief Dick Heitschmidt had been instrumental in changing the department by getting officers involved in the community. But it was a tough sell. Wickliffe said Dick had a split department with some of the brass resistant to the new policing.
In our conversation, Wick and I barely mentioned the natural gas explosions which occurred in Hutchinson in January 2001, destroying two downtown businesses and killing two people. The uncertainty of where the next gas geyser or explosion would occur created a lot of worry in the community. But Captain Wickliffe was a stabilizing and calming influence to the department and to the public.
As I neared the end of our interview, I figured Wick would have plenty to say about how he had put up with racism and hatred. Much to my surprise, he said he really didn’t run into it much and the couple of times he did, he dealt with it personally. Like ‘No Drama Obama’, end of story, next question.
I looked again at Wick’s retirement plaque. He had a full law enforcement career beginning as a patrolman in 1968; and being promoted, first as an investigator in 1974; then a sergeant, 1976; lieutenant, 1987; and captain, 1998. The plaque’s inscription summed it up: “33 Years Served Faithfully And Honorably.”
“Do you have any regrets?” was my last query.
“No, replied Wickliffe, “I was promoted as high as I wanted. Chief was too political. I was happy.”
Richard and his wife Maxine (a/k/a Max), who worked for the Reno County Sheriff’s Office, both ended their long, productive careers on the same day. They walked out of the Law Enforcement Center together on December 28, 2001 and put their guns and badges away.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!