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Lawrence, Kansas, Hires First African-American Police Chief In More Than A Century

Lawrence Police Department

This post was updated at 11:35 a.m. with comments from Burns. 

Gregory Burns Jr. from the Louisville, Kentucky, police department will become the first African-American chief of police in Lawrence, Kansas, since the city's first black marshal in the 1890s.

Lawrence City Manager Tom Markus announced Wednesday that Burns was chosen out of four finalists to replace former Chief Tarik Khatib who stepped down in June. 

Burns, a Louisville native, says he's excited to have the opportunity to fulfill a personal dream. 

And the significance of being the first black chief in more than 100 years isn't lost on him. 

"I really do understand the significant and historical value in that," Burns says. "But at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, when I return from the Lawrence Police Department I want people to just say ... 'He was a chief that did a fantastic job here who just happened to be African-American.'” 

Lawrence Communications Manager Porter Arneill said Burns was chosen because of his ability to connect with the community.

"[Burns] has shown a real interest in solving problems by getting involved directly and working with people in a very close way to make sure there’s open conversation and good resolution," Arneill said. 

Burns' comments in a city news release reflected that interest. 

“I look forward to working with the citizens and the men and women of the police department to make Lawrence a better place to live, work, play and learn,” he said. 

Burns was chosen from four finalists who came to Lawrence earlier in the summer. He is currently an assistant police chief for the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Burns received a warm welcome via Twitter from the department, which has gained a large following as a result of humor aimed at the KU student population. 

"I’m definitely gonna have to step my Twitter game up," Burns says.

Porter said Burns' experience working in Louisville, another college town, was one of the reasons he was ultimately chosen for the position. 

"That was certainly a consideration because of the unique nature of college towns," Porter said.

Burns will start on Oct. 2. Though he will be the first African-American police chief in Lawrence, the city did have an African-American city marshal, Samuel Jeans, in the late 1800s.

Katie Bernard is a morning news intern for KCUR. 

KCUR's Lisa Rodriguez contributed to this report. 

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