Thursday, October 1, 2015

Area-specific violence is being addressed

Some recent acts of violence have prompted inquiries about possible rashes of crime in different parts of our city. I’ve heard concern about the old Northeast and the 18th and Vine entertainment district among other areas, lately. 

Let me assure you that no area of the city is having an abnormal outbreak of violent crime. As I discussed in my previous post, homicides and assaults with a weapon are up this year compared to the record-low last year, but we still remain well below where we have been for the last four decades. All other types of crime in the city are down.

This is not to say we aren’t doing everything we can to prevent and solve crime and make people feel safe. I’ve talked a lot about our prevention efforts on this blog, ranging from the Kansas City No Violence Alliance to deploying extra resources to hot spots. There are so many other things happening. Weekly intelligence-sharing meetings keep everyone in patrol and investigations abreast of the most serious crime trends, suspects and problem areas. We then deploy the necessary resources – from increased police presence to covert operations – to stop the criminal activity. These intel-sharing efforts have gone down to the patrol division level, too. Your local officers work with schools, businesses, prosecutors, non-profits, and most importantly, of course – residents – to identify patterns of crime and ways to prevent them. The officers who work in your neighborhood know the areas experiencing issues, and they usually know who is engaging in criminal behavior. They need your help to further identify those suspects and get them into custody. And detectives need community assistance to gather enough evidence for successful prosecution.

Let me share a recent success story of all these pieces working together. The Historic Northeast neighborhood was recently plagued by a burglar who broke into victims’ homes while they were still inside. Crime analysts and district officers recognized the pattern and deployed resources ranging from extra patrol to cameras to under-cover officers. Neighbors and East Patrol officers held a community meeting to discuss the problem, actions residents could take to prevent crime and how to assist police. More than 100 people came to the meeting. Afterward, the burglar was caught and linked to about 20 crimes. This was an excellent collaboration between residents and police.

Similar work is happening in the 18th and Vine area. Central Patrol Division, the Vice Unit and the City’s Regulated Industries are working with business owners in the entertainment district to address violence that has erupted there. Additional officers also will be deployed at busier times like nights and weekends. Everyone should feel safe patronizing Kansas City’s entertainment districts. They are an integral part of our culture and make our city unique. KCPD constantly works with the management of these districts, as well as the businesses located within them, to ensure a safe environment. We also have excellent partnerships with the private security agencies who work in these areas. Everyone’s goal is to provide a fun place where people can enjoy themselves without fear.

Once a crime takes place, we also devote significant resources to solving it. During the first two weeks of September, Kansas City experienced multiple homicides. The Violent Crime Division alone expended more than $60,000 on overtime those two weeks. That is 1,206.3 extra hours put in by a few squads of detectives in just two weeks to solve these cases. That does not include the work done by crime scene investigators, analysts at the Crime Lab, or specialized units like the Illegal Firearms Squad, Career Criminal Squad or the many others who are involved in investigating these cases, arresting suspects and submitting cases for prosecution. We also have victim advocates who work every day with violent crime victims and their surviving loved ones.

We have incredibly dedicated people who work around the clock to get dangerous people into custody and provide justice. They work long, hard hours to ensure those who commit acts of violence will be stopped before they can hurt others. And as always, they need the help of other segments of the community to make that happen.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

The status of 2015 homicides in Kansas City

Many media reports recently have given the impression that Kansas City’s homicide rate is much higher than normal. I’ve heard rumors that gangs or drugs are the cause. None of this is true. I’d like to clarify exactly what’s happening with murders in our city and shed some light on what we’re doing about them.

As of this writing, Kansas City, Missouri, has had 72 homicides in 2015. At this time last year, we had 57. Last year, we experienced the lowest number of homicides in 42 years. It is discouraging we have more so far this year, but it still remains below where we have been in almost any prior year in the last four decades. And with the exception of homicides and aggravated assaults (assaults with a weapon), every other category of crime defined by the FBI is down in Kansas City so far this year. As of August 1, total crimes were down by 5 percent.

Kansas City continues to avoid the deadly outbreaks of violence that have plagued other cities of our size. I posted about this earlier this summer. As of Sept. 22, for example, St. Louis has 148 homicides – more than twice those in Kansas City (and our population is greater by about 150,000).

The murders here aren’t the result of some gang or drug war. More often than not, they occur between people who get angry with each other and choose to settle their conflict with a firearm. (Sixty people have been murdered by firearms in Kansas City so far this year.) Of the 51 homicide cases so far in which detectives have determined a motive, 22 of them were the result of an argument. Domestic and family violence accounts for the second-highest number of homicides by motive, with 16. And it’s not just among intimate partners. We’ve had cases of an uncle killing his nephew, a step-son killing his step-father, and a woman’s boyfriend killing her toddler son while he babysat him. Cases like that are incredibly sad and incredibly difficult to prevent.

We’re taking many steps to reduce homicides. I outlined some of those in this post. Those efforts include everything from lethality assessments to prevent intimate partner violence by getting victims to safety, to the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, to the Police Athletic League.

But as I’ve said many times, police are only part of the solution. We can’t be at every family gathering at which an argument breaks out and someone pulls out a gun. We can and have identified who is most likely to commit acts of violence and then targeted them for either aggressive prosecution or social services through Kansas City NoVA. But we can’t be everywhere or know everything. We can’t prevent everyone who shouldn’t have a firearm from having one.

Fortunately, the community has been working alongside us like never before. We will continue to build and nurture relationships in hopes of establishing trust so members of our community feel encouraged to contact us before a crime occurs.

And after crimes occur, we’ve seen witnesses step up and give vital information to solve many of our most recent killings. Just this weekend, more than a dozen people came forward in a homicide that took place in a crowded area. In years past, witnesses in that situation tended to just scatter and never speak with police. Things are very different now, and I am very grateful for this increased cooperation. A community full of people who make it known that violence will not be tolerated – and that the irresponsible use of firearms will not be tolerated – is ultimately what will reduce the number of homicide victims in Kansas City. The Kansas City Missouri Police Department is ready and willing to assist in that endeavor.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Survey shows increased citizen satisfaction with KCPD

The results of the Kansas City’s annual Citizen Satisfaction Survey were released last week, and I’m very proud of how our department did. Satisfaction with overall quality of police services increased by 3 percent from 2014, which was the greatest increase of any major city service this year.

An increase of 3 percent may not seem like much, but given the scrutiny law enforcement has been under during the past year, I think it’s very impressive. A series of officer-involved shootings and excessive force incidents began last August and led to great distrust and dissatisfaction with police around the country.

In Kansas City, I have asked the members of our department to instead focus on building trust and fostering relationships with the people we serve. We still have a long way to go, but we have made tremendous strides. At a time when other cities are seeing rioting and skyrocketing homicide rates born of reduced confidence in law enforcement, 3 percent more Kansas City residents report satisfaction with the quality of police services they receive. At 66.1 percent, it’s the greatest percentage of satisfaction since the City started asking the question in 2012.

There also were significant increases in satisfaction in three other police areas compared to last year:

· City’s overall efforts to prevent crime is up 6.2 percent

· Effectiveness of local police protection is up 4.6 percent

· How quickly police respond to emergencies is up 2.1 percent.

Again, I think this is tremendous given the overall feelings about law enforcement in the past year. It shows that our department members by and large are different from those who have made national headlines. The most prominent headlines KCPD members made this past year were for getting caught on camera interacting with urban-core youth, rescuing dogs and working with other members of the community to bring Kansas City’s homicide rate to its lowest level in 42 years.

We have much more work to do, however. There is still much distrust that must be overcome, and building relationships that do that is one of my highest priorities. I thank the members of this department who are breaking down barriers of mistrust every day, and I thank the other segments of the community who are doing the same.

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Friday, August 7, 2015

During intense scrutiny, a message for KCPD members

I shared the below message today with all the members of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, and now I'd like to share it with everyone. I appreciate all the support our department has received from the community, and I look forward to continuing to build even stronger relationships between police and other members of the community. Here's the message that went out to KCPD members this morning:

I want to thank all department members again for their service in keeping our community safe. I am not the only one. In fact, most people appreciate what you do. They support you and want you to know how important you are to our community. Even Governor Jay Nixon said when he was at our Headquarters yesterday that he recognizes the difficulty of your job and what a valuable service you provide. He also said the Kansas City Missouri Police Department is a model that other law enforcement agencies in the state should follow.

Under the intense scrutiny law enforcement has faced, I continue to be proud of the dedication and professionalism the members of this department exhibit. This weekend will mark the first anniversary of the officer-involved shooting in Ferguson, Mo., that sparked so much of the police scrutiny. Negative attention on law enforcement in Kansas City and across the nation likely will come in media reports and from other sources. Do not be discouraged. I know our members are here to protect and serve with professionalism, honor and integrity, and we will continue to work with the community to make our city safe and strong.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Current vacancies at KCPD

There have been some reports in the media lately about the number of vacancies on our department. I wanted to provide some of those numbers for the sake of transparency.

Our total number of budgeted law enforcement positions is 1,438. However, we haven’t been at that level since 2008. At this time last year, we had 1,395 law enforcement officers. We now have 1,358. So we have 37 fewer officers than we did at this time last year, for a total of 80 law enforcement vacancies.

We typically make up for attrition through two police Academy classes per year, composed of between 40 and 50 recruits. We have 10 recruits currently in the Academy, and no other classes scheduled at this time to stay within our budget.

The majority of our law enforcement staff is in the Patrol Bureau. These are the officers you see on the streets. That Bureau has 63 law enforcement vacancies right now, compared to 74 at the beginning of 2014. That’s not quite comparing apples to oranges, though, because the Patrol Bureau gave up 25 spots later in 2014 to form the Violent Crimes Enforcement Division. This group now is assigned to the Investigations Bureau and is charged with seeking out individuals who are identified as being involved in violent criminal activity. The Violent Crimes Enforcement Division Officers essentially provide a proactive patrol function. They don’t usually answer 911 calls for service, however.

The Patrol Bureau also is down 20 civilian staff members, who serve in positions such as desk clerk and detention officer. Sometimes, officers have to be pulled in off the streets to fill these positions. Overall, our department has 112 civilian vacancies, compared to 79 at this time last year.

Some patrol divisions are hurting more than others. North Patrol has 13 vacancies, the greatest of any division. Each patrol division commander must engage in a delicate balancing act to ensure there are enough officers on duty 24 hours a day to answer all the calls for service in their division in a timely manner. This can involve everything from overtime to using reserve officers. We have 11 more reserve officers right now than we did at this time last year, for a total of 37. Most reserves are officers who have resigned or retired from KCPD. They keep current on training as any other officer would, and they work on a volunteer basis. Reserves must work a minimum of 288 hours a year, which equates to about 6 hours weekly. Additionally, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, an extra four officers and a sergeant are assigned to hot spot areas in the East, Central, and Metro patrol divisions. Every sergeant, detective and officer on this department not in an under-cover assignment must work six days annually in a hot spot assignment. 

Could we use more officers? Certainly. Being fully staffed could lead to reduced response times and allow officers greater flexibility in time off and for proactive work. But we are good stewards of the resources we have. We are doing everything we can to ensure the community’s needs for safety and security are met, and we appreciate residents’ cooperation with us in doing so.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Kansas City not experiencing same homicide increase as other U.S. cities

As outlined in USA Today last weekend, many cities across the country are seeing an increase in homicides. The article points out cities like Milwaukee, Baltimore, New Orleans and St. Louis have seen their murder rates increase by more than a third compared to the same date last year.

We have worked with the community to enact many measures to prevent that from happening in Kansas City. And it’s paying off. As of this writing, Kansas City, Missouri, has experienced 38 homicides in 2015, which is one more than at this time last year. But for many years prior to that, we averaged more than 50 homicides at this point in the year. With 80 homicides recorded in Kansas City last year (a few more were ruled as such by the Medical Examiner since I last posted about 2014 homicide rates), we experienced the city’s lowest homicide rate since 1972. That was not a fluke. The trend is continuing into this year, and I expect we will continue to see fewer and fewer murders.

Of course just one homicide is one too many, so we are working to prevent every one we can and hold accountable the perpetrators in those we can’t.

One of my strategic objectives when I became Chief of Police was to reduce homicides in our city. We have undertaken many efforts since then, and we saw them start to come to fruition last year. I outlined many of those in this previous post, including everything from the Kansas City No Violence Alliance to the Police Athletic League.

I also think one of the biggest differences between other cities experiencing increased homicides and our city is the cooperation between residents and police. More community members than ever before are coming forward to share information with us, let us know about problems in their area and work with us on a day-to-day basis to keep their neighborhoods safe. My first priority action under my strategic objective to reduce homicides is to, “Remove barriers that currently exist between the police department and the community in order to build trust and establish productive, open lines of communication.” That is happening.

The members of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department have put forth tremendous effort to gain the trust of the other members of the community they serve. I am proud of what they have done and will continue to do. A city whose residents work with and trust law enforcement is a safer city. With this partnership, I think we will avoid the spikes in murders occurring in other places across the country. 

Because of the work done by our department members, law enforcement partners, community leaders and residents on building relationships and working as a community to solve our problems, the Kansas City metro area also has not had to deal with the continual negative media attention other cities have had to wade through. I appreciate our local media reporting events responsibly. This has been a benefit to our community, so we can focus our efforts toward continuing to build a better tomorrow. 

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Officers need breaks, too

You surely have heard about a Texas police officer who has now resigned over the way a cell phone video depicted him treating a teenage girl too roughly at a pool party. If his lawyer is to be believed, there are previous incidents that contributed to his actions at the pool party. That same day, the officer purportedly had responded to a suicide in which a man shot himself in front of his children. He tried to console the man’s wife and then had to take pictures of the body. Also that day, the officer is reported to have talked down a teenage girl who threatened to commit suicide by jumping off a roof. His lawyer said, “He allowed his emotions to get the better of him.”

I don’t know whether that’s true, and if it is, I can’t say whether it exonerates anything he did. But if all that is true, it is a recipe for disaster. Expecting officers to go from traumatic call to traumatic call leaves them emotionally unhealthy and thus unable to perform as we expect them to: with professionalism and integrity.

Our officers see the worst society has to offer, and I’m making it a priority to give them time to decompress from that. I’ve heard about too many officers who have been involved in a critical incident, get three days off, and then they’re thrown back into work and left on their own to deal with everything. Then a few years later they get medically retired because they’re suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. That’s no way to treat your people. The Kansas City Missouri Police Department is focusing on whole-person wellness now more than ever before.

I want to make sure officers tap each other out if they’ve handled a stressful call, and I want our supervisors to encourage that.

One simple change we can make is ensuring our officers get time to eat. Too often they run from call to call to call for 10 hours straight. We’ve got to stop trying to be superhuman. We need nourishment and rest, not only for our health but also to serve our community well.

When I was an officer, we got in trouble for having too many police cars parked outside one restaurant. I'm now sharing with staff and other segments of the community my desire for officers to be and feel safe while taking breaks, so there will no longer be emphasis placed on the number of vehicles at any given location. Officers eating together provides them an excellent opportunity to decompress. They get the chance to talk about what they have experienced and what’s bothering them. They can give each other support. Of course call volume will continue to be considered. But increased ambush-type incidents on officers have emphasized the old adage that there is safety in numbers. Many of you reading this get the chance to go out to eat with your coworkers. Officers should be able to do the same. Or simply have the chance to sit down at the station and eat the meal they brought.

We have sometimes put public perception above officers’ well-being. We worried what people might think if they saw four or six officers eating together instead of responding to a burglary call. We’re doing things differently now. Officers’ health needs to be a priority.

Community needs will of course be paramount, and officers always will respond to emergencies in a timely fashion. (Our median response time to Priority 1 calls was about 7 minutes, 50 seconds in May.) But we need to do more public education about our call prioritization. Although we understand how scary a home invasion can be, if there are no suspects in the home or nearby, we often must prioritize other calls before that. This blog I did about call prioritization two years ago still holds true: Actual or potential harm to people always will be the first thing to which available officers respond. And if there are several of those calls, it could be hours until we get to the burglary call. We have finite resources, and we use data and intelligence to deploy them as effectively as possible.

And amid all those calls, our officers may need to grab a bite to eat. And I’m going to encourage them to do so.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

KCPD officers are taking advantage of Save a Warrior program

I've put a big emphasis this year on the overall wellness of our department members. I wrote about it on this blog last month, and now I want to highlight one of the programs I mentioned, Save a Warrior. Six KCPD members now have graduated from it, and it's featured in this month's issue of our Department's newsletter, the Informant. I've pasted the text of the article below, and I look forward to seeing how this program can help more of our members.

Officer Adam Baker was unprepared for what would happen after he was in a fatal officer-involved shooting.

With all his Marine and KCPD training, he thought everything would be fine. But then came the night terrors. Then no sleep for four days at a time, and anxiety that rendered him unable to leave his house except for appointments with the Department psychologist. One medication after another. A wife who was terrified and didn’t know what to do to help him.

“It made me really feel like I’m broken, and I can’t get fixed,” Officer Baker said.

Then one of the Department’s psychologists, Kay White, suggested Baker try the Save a Warrior program. After launching in Malibu, Calif., it came to Kansas City last fall. It is “an innovative, evidence-based program that provides a powerful healing experience for active-duty military, veterans and first responders who are suffering from post-traumatic stress,” according to the organization’s web site. The site states 22 “warriors” commit suicide every day in the United States.

Adam Magers, the project director of Kansas City’s Save a Warrior program, attended the one in Malibu and thought it was so powerful and life-changing that he wanted to make Kansas City the organization’s second location. The first K.C. cohort, or 5-day course, took place in fall 2014.

Magers said Save a Warrior’s founder, Jake Clark, was a military veteran but also had served in the FBI, U.S. Secret Service and at the L.A. Police Department.

“He had just as much drama from law enforcement as he did from his time in the military, and it took him 13 years to overcome it,” Magers said. “… If there’s anyone who needs this program, it’s police officers.”

Los Angeles Police officers have found great success in the program, so when it started here, Magers wanted to see if Kansas City Police would be interested. An architect working on the Headquarters renovation project, Dale Duncan, runs the Spencer Duncan Make it Count Foundation in honor of his son, who died when his helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. The Foundation supports organizations that help veterans, including Save a Warrior. He introduced Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Commander Captain Darren Ivey to the program. Then he, Ivey and Magers sat down with Chief Darryl Forté, who agreed it would be an excellent opportunity for officers experiencing post-traumatic stress. The Spencer Duncan Foundation and Kansas City Royals Charities have so far paid for KCPD members to attend. It costs about $2,500 per participant for the cohort.

Officer Baker said it’s not just for people like him who are involved in critical incidents. It’s also for officers who experience hardship day after day and never get to decompress.

“After you have to see an abused or dead baby during the day, how are you supposed to act when you go home to your own kids at night?” he asked. “You have to push that stuff down. It builds up.”

Captain Ivey presented about Save a Warrior at a commanders’ meeting in April. He told the commanders to let him know if they knew of anyone who could benefit from the program.

“I was still presenting, and my phone started blowing up with e-mails,” Captain Ivey said. “They said stuff like, ‘This person would be perfect,’ and ‘I’d like to volunteer.’”

He said he was surprised by the outpouring from his fellow officers because many view police as macho, stodgy and unconcerned about emotional well-being.

“It seems we’ve evolved,” he said. “Overall wellness is really becoming part of our culture now.”

Officer Baker was part of the first group of three KCPD officers to go through Save a Warrior. Another three graduated as part of the 13-person cohort on May 8. Baker said the program focuses on how warriors throughout history have been able to overcome trauma, and it offers things like meditation and peer support as tools to do so. The majority of people who come to Save a Warrior are suicidal, according to the organization’s web site. Baker said he hadn’t reached that point yet, but he was in enough pain to know he needed something quickly.

“It literally is like looking in a mirror when you go there,” he said. “You really understand that all of us are going through the exact same problems.”

Officer Baker said that thanks to the program, he is healing and has regained his sense of self-worth. He went back as a “shepherd” with the May cohort, to serve as support and share his experiences.

For more information or to donate to the program, go to

Friday, May 15, 2015

Remarks from 2015 Police Memorial Service

We conducted our annual Memorial Service yesterday to remember the 119 officers who have died in service to our city since 1881. It was part of National Police Week activities - a week dedicated to fallen officers across the country. Below are my remarks from yesterday:

Again, thank you for coming to the 2015 Kansas City Missouri Police Department Memorial Service. I’m pleased to be back here in front of our newly renovated Headquarters building. If you’d been here before the renovations, you’ll notice that our memorial statue now is in a much more prominent and accessible place. It’s now at ground level, so everyone who passes by can read the 119 names inscribed there. And the original KCPD memorial is just to the south, also now at ground level so the public can read and appreciate the sacrifices made by the members of this department over the last 140 years.

In many ways, our officers are safer now than they were, say, in the 1920s, when three or more were killed annually. That was the deadliest decade for our department. We now have things like bullet-resistant vests and advanced training, which I’ll talk more about in a bit.

Last year, we started a tradition of having surviving family members of our fallen officers share their experiences. I’d now like to ask Trudy Meyers to come speak. Her husband, KCPD Officer Tom Meyers, had 25 years of service in law enforcement when he was struck and killed by a drunk driver on January 14, 1998. I’d like to invite her to tell her story now.

-Remarks by Trudy Meyers -

Thank you, Mrs. Meyers, for sharing your experiences. Nothing I can say can change what happened or ease the sting of your loss.

Law enforcement remains a dangerous profession, and recent incidents of civil unrest across the nation have made it even more so. Police are under more scrutiny than ever before, and some people are willing to commit violent acts against officers. After several years of decline, American law enforcement officer deaths increased by 24 percent in 2014, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. A total of 126 officers were killed in the line of duty last year. Firearm-related deaths spiked by 56 percent, accounting for 50 officer deaths last year. And perhaps most frightening, ambush was the leading cause of felonious deaths against officers.

But I can assure you we are doing everything we can so no other Kansas City Missouri Police Officer’s family has to endure what the Meyers family did. There are so many people behind the scenes who work to protect our personnel out on the street, and I wanted to recognize some of them today. The lives of our officers indirectly rest in their hands, and they get little recognition for that.

To start with, I’d like to recognize our training staff at the Academy. They lay the foundation for all officer safety. Our officers know almost everything they know about how to handle situations with professionalism and caution because of our trainers. The Academy staff provides recruits with nearly eight months of training in everything from firearms to legal studies to defensive tactics to first aid. They conduct research into best practices and always are updating their approaches. At this service last year, I spoke about the Below 100 training two of our drivers’ training instructors developed for KCPD. It now is required for all sworn personnel. The goal of this training is to reduce officer fatalities nationwide to fewer than 100 each year. This is just one example of the innovative work our trainers do. They also provide annual training to officers to keep their knowledge, skills and abilities in top form. When officers must make split-second, life-and-death decisions, they must rely on their training. Surely you’ve heard someone say, “I just went back to my training.” The work our Academy staff members are doing provides that critical training, and it has served KCPD officers very well. 

Once they’re out on the street, the lifeline of every officer is the dispatcher. Calltakers and dispatchers work together to provide officers with the information they need to be prepared to enter any situation. They keep track of where the officers are so they can provide whatever resources the officers need, from back-up to an ambulance. They are expert multi-taskers, and our officers rely on them for their safety.

Of course the officers could never talk to a dispatcher if they didn’t have their radios and other communication equipment. The folks in our Communication Support Unit install and maintain this technology. This equipment is absolutely mandatory for police to do their job and do it safely. And this isn’t the equipment we used when I came on the department 29 years ago. More than $20,000 in equipment goes onto every patrol car, including video cameras and recorders, in-car computers, E-ticket printers, LED light bars and so much more. Even the radios are no longer just radios. They’re all small computers. The officers know if anything goes wrong with any of those pieces of equipment, they can’t do their job safely. They also know they can count on the staff of the Communication Support Unit to get it up and running again as quickly as possible, even though that unit maintains radio equipment for the entire city’s fleet of vehicles.

And the cars that those officers drive are maintained by the Fleet Operations Unit. A properly functioning vehicle is essential for keeping officers safe and serving our residents. Forty-nine officers died last year in traffic crashes nationwide. Despite the amount of miles and rough driving our cars endure, Fleet Operations personnel make sure they’re running as well as possible.

The Supply Unit ensures every officer is properly equipped with all the tools they need to do their job and keep them safe, from ballistic shields to bullet-resistant vests.

There are other less obvious positions supporting officer safety. Much of the animosity toward police in the past year has been driven not by people’s actual experiences with police, but what they saw in the news and social media. Our Media Unit works constantly to build trust and support for our officers in the community. Just take a look at the department’s social media pages some time and see the tens of thousands of people on them who support the KCPD. There always will be people who want to harm us simply because we are police officers. But the Media Unit works hard to create a positive perception of police and create champions for our officers in Kansas City. Ultimately, that enhances officer safety.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank all the people who help prevent police fatalities here but get very little public credit for doing so. I could go on and on about these behind-the-scenes folks, from the Benefits Section to the Fiscal Division. The officers know how valuable they are, but rarely does anyone at a podium say so. I’m glad I got to do so today.

I also want to thank Trudy Meyers for her touching remarks about the loss of her husband. And to her and all the survivors here today, words cannot express our sorrow at your loved one’s sacrifice in service to their community. We offer you our continuous support. We also want you to know there are hundreds of people here working to ensure no other KCPD officer is killed in the line of duty. I mentioned many of those groups today. In addition to thanking an officer for their service when you see one, I’d encourage everyone here to thank our other staff, as well.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

We're making changes to enhance community trust and officers' well-being

Whenever unrest between police and residents breaks out in other cities, our local media often ask me to comment about it. I don’t do that because I don’t want to lose my focus on improving trust here in Kansas City.

That said, I certainly am not oblivious to what is happening with police in other places. I actually spent time in Ferguson, Mo., today to talk to residents there and learn about their concerns. Law enforcement is under more scrutiny than ever before. That’s why we’re constantly working to build relationships with other segments of our community, rethinking the way we approach volatile situations and ensuring that our members are well enough mentally and physically to protect and serve with professionalism and integrity.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ve learned about many of the ways the members of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department are partnering and building trust with other community members. (I say “other community members” because we live here, too, and also are part of this community.) The latest initiative we undertook to ensure trust was earlier this month on Election Day. I appointed one of our captains to be an election liaison. His job was to investigate any complaints of officers interfering with the election process (something that happened during an unfortunate chapter of KCPD history in the 1930s), such as any officers intimidating or interfering with voters. One anonymous caller informed us that he thought he saw police officers passing out campaign material. The election liaison went to the location and investigated, but he couldn’t find anything. That was the only reported incident. We will continue using the election liaison at all future elections.

We’re also trying to change the way our officers think about volatile situations that can lead to officer-involved shootings. At this year’s in-service training (required for all officers), we’re teaching a course about tactical disengagement and redeployment. The instructor of the course, Sergeant Ward Smith, describes the idea well: “I can remain in this same position, and I’ll have to use force. But if I use tactics and training and think my way through this, I can pull out of this location and avoid shooting it out with someone.” This is a change of mindset for many. Throughout the history of law enforcement, we’ve had the idea of “never back down, never retreat.” We are encouraging and training our officers to use critical thinking and problem solving to avoid a situation in which they have to shoot someone to protect themselves. This is easier said than done, because oftentimes situations unfold rapidly, leaving officers seconds or less to make decisions. Although we've stressed critical thinking and problem solving in the past, with Sergeant Smith's training, we’re emphasizing the idea that there may be other options. Ultimately, however, we’re only in control of our actions, not the actions of suspects. When a suspect endangers the life of an officer or innocent person, that officer has the legal right to protect himself or herself and others using lethal force.

Our officers are trained to administer first aid and call for an ambulance at the earliest and safest opportunity when lethal force is used. Officers on this department are taught that if they are forced to shoot someone, and if that person is no longer posing a threat to them or others, the officer should immediately render medical care. Their care has kept those they’ve shot alive while awaiting ambulances on too many occasions for me to recall.

Our officers now must qualify on their firearms twice a year. But it isn’t just about hitting a target. A big part of this semiannual firearms training is threat assessment. It’s just as important for officers to know when not to shoot as it is to know when to shoot. Officers are tested in a number of shoot/don’t-shoot scenarios and must pass them to remain in service.

But all the training in the world won’t help an officer who isn’t well enough to effectively do his or her duty. I don’t just mean physical wellness. I’m putting a big focus this year on the overall wellness of our department members. One of the major components of this is addressing secondary trauma. First responders like police officers (and civilian staff like dispatchers and crime scene investigators) see and hear the most disturbing and evil things our society has to offer. They regularly see murdered bodies, abused children, mangled victims of car crashes and more heinous things that are unthinkable to most other people. They deal with angry and grieving loved ones. They are placed in stressful and life-threatening situations.

Those things undoubtedly have a physical, emotional and mental impact on officers, as they would on any human being, and can lead to devastating consequences, both on and off the job. Officers can experience compassion fatigue. In an attempt to protect themselves psychologically, they can stop caring for others. Cumulative secondary trauma also can change the way officers’ brains and bodies respond to things. They become hyper-vigilant and act out of a fight, flight or freeze state. That’s not safe for them or the people with whom they interact. Off the clock, secondary trauma also can devastate officers’ personal and family relationships.

We’ve teamed with Truman Behavioral Health to create training to address this issue. The first course was offered to KCPD employees this month. By the completion of training, participants should be able to define and identify secondary trauma and risk factors; describe the mind-body connection to secondary trauma in work and life; complete a variety of assessment tools; and practice, reflect upon and develop coping skills to build resiliency for self and peer support. Several peer support initiatives are underway, as well. We already have several informal groups meeting whose members are coping with a variety of issues from work and home, and we plan to expand and formalize those. We’re often so busy helping others that we can forget we need help, too.

Some of our officers also are participating in the Save a Warrior program. The Kansas City Star did a great feature on it a few weeks ago. It seeks to help those who have been in the military and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Our department has many military veterans.

These are just some of the many ways we’re trying to better care for our people so they can better care for their community. We’re sponsoring a peace rally at 10 a.m. this Saturday at 31st and Prospect. I want members of our department to come together with other members of the community to rally for peace in our city and our nation.

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