Photo by Ally Davis
As the new school year begins, Police Officer Josh Lebeda takes on a new role as Butler’s police chief on campus. Chief Lebeda became a certified police officer in 2013 when he graduated from the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center. He then worked at the Haysville Police Department until eight months ago when he was an intern and then officially hired at Butler after going through a hiring board. He also has a bachelor’s degree in social work from Wichita State University.
“With that social work background and case management that I have done, working in intimate spaces with people, I wanted that experience,” Chief Lebeda said. “Traditional policing is called ‘street copping’ or something you might see at the El Dorado Police Department and happens at a very accelerated pace. When the call happens and you are on the scene, there is just a little bit of time. Here I genuinely can get to know somebody. I am going to know you for a couple of years, get to know a little about you and hopefully you can see me in a different way, not just by this uniform and handcuffs. That happens through relationships, and here I get an opportunity to build relationships a little better that I would just traditionally on the street.”
With a new position comes new responsibilities and tasks that Chief Lebeda has not done before as just a regular police officer.
“As chief, there is a lot of dealing with billing and budgeting,” Lebeda said. “It’s a dynamic change from just the officer level.” There is a lot of behind the desk, managing the budget and receiving emails form accounts because we have various vendors coming in and there are bills due. We have 40 hours of mandatory training for every officer, and I have to make sure that training is arranged. It is much more management, so I try to block out time to interact with the other officers and be out of this office because no matter what there is, it won’t stop and it will always be there.”
Along with budgeting and desk work, Lebeda has also experienced a few other things that are brand new to him.
“Currently, we are in the process of getting new uniforms,” Lebeda said. “We wrote a grant for $10,000 that hasn’t come through yet, but we are getting good feedback that it might, in order to get new vests because our vests are getting to the point where they will be out of state stature. I didn’t know about this grant writing process, and I was able to learn and meet some really cool people as that was the first time I had ever done that.”
Lebeda wanted the position as chief for career progression and to step up the ladder, but that was only one reason he wanted the job.
“What it was mostly about was to hopefully put an ethos, a culture, that can come through here,” Lebeda said. “Anything culture starts at the top. If I can model the behavior, we need to be well trained trauma informed officers. Hopefully that is the person I would attract that wants to be here and they would step into that culture. I want to see us a little more well-rounded as person.”
The committee went through extensive interviewing to find the right person for the job. The 12 applicants had to submit a letter of application with a resume highlighting their law enforcement career which the committee then used to pick the top four candidates. After interviewing the four separately, they discussed what kind of qualities would be best for the job.
“The committee was looking for someone that could continue the positive relationship between our certified law enforcement agency and all college stakeholders,” Bill Rinkenbaugh, vice president of Student Services said. “This needed to be someone with law enforcement experience that was a certified law enforcement officer and able to work as such in the state of Kansas. Personally, I want a quality leader that can maximize the limited resources available to us, yet capable of providing quality public safety services for all individuals.”
Along with hopes for a change in culture among the police officers here, Lebeda wants his officers to have better training when it comes to dealing with things outside of the physical actions one normally takes.
“My hope is that I can have a consistent staff and have some retention,” Lebeda said. “I like that idea because I think that overall gives some security to the students and helps to know some faces. If we can get that down, I would really like to push trauma informed training for officers. We do a pretty good job with the driving cars and the handcuffs, but we need to get better on the talking portion and the empathizing portion. People by their very nature sympathize well, but they don’t empathize very well. If officers get exposed to some of that training that is available, that will help bring that along.”
The department is looking to grow as a program and to bring not only better working environments and experiences for officers, but also better learning environment and experiences to students.
“We are looking at creating opportunities for students involved in the criminal justice program to have internship opportunities within the Department of Public Safety,” Rinkenbaugh said. “This will require collegiality between Public Safety and the Criminal Justice program. Josh has already begun having conversations with those in the criminal justice program to make these opportunities available. There is nothing finalized at this time, but I see this moving forward and having these opportunities available in the very near future.”
One point of progression that Lebeda hopes to bring to Butler is the use of the Educare building (1600 building) and turn it into a criminal justice building, which was presented to the Board of Trustees at their August meeting. Currently there are a few professors putting a proposal together to help propel that proposition.
“The petition is to get the 1600 building in conjunction with the criminal justice program,” Lebeda said. “Where the police department is now, we have very little interaction with the criminal justice building. There is not a lot of space over there for us to do anything, and there is not a lot of space over here for them to do anything, we can’t integrate. With this program, students truly can come in and interact with police in a professional setting and also in a personal way. Criminal justice right now is just opening books, and you cannot learn this job that way.”
The new building would not only provide opportunities for the students at Butler, but also hold potential to provide opportunities for other police officers in the community and to also bring profit to the school.
“I believe that building can really morph into an El Dorado officer, or any officer inside of Butler county to be able to come there and train because there would be available rooms where they could host trainings,” Lebeda said. “Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center have discussed being interested in coming down and bringing their instructors, which would make that building potentially money generating and for profit.”
As a married man with passions for Brazilian jujitsu, hunting and fishing, it is hard to miss his genuine zeal for his career and his want to better his community.
“I really believe that being a police officer here we have an opportunity to affect generations of how people see police officers,” Lebeda said. “Policing, especially over the last five years, has really gotten a black eye and some of that deservingly so. Hopefully we have people coming from all over that they get an opportunity to at least for a short time that maybe they can see a police officer in a different way and we can see them in a different way.”