Monday, November 23, 2015

Media coverage of police influences public perception

Soon you will see newspaper and television stories about officer-involved shootings in Kansas City. They likely will feature emotional statements from loved ones saying they wish the shootings never had to happen. Those of us in law enforcement wish the same thing. The very last thing any officer wants to do is take the life of another person. Everyone misses a loved one when they are gone. Because of this, I understand that the family and friends of those left behind are grieving and questioning the necessity of it all.

But when a life-threatening situation presents itself, officers cannot act on what they would like to happen. They don’t have that luxury. They must act on the facts as they know them at the time and take what actions are necessary and legal to protect themselves and others. And unlike the extensive analysis of the incident that so-called “experts” on 24-hour news stations can conduct in the aftermath, officers usually do not have the luxury of time as an incident unfolds. They have fractions of a second to determine whether someone is presenting a threat to their life or the life of another.

We have seen what irresponsible reporting by the media can do. While protests over the death of a man in police custody raged in Baltimore in May, a national news network reported that Baltimore police had shot and killed a protester, nearly inciting another riot. That was not at all true. Police instead arrested a man with a gun. The network retracted the report. But not before it already increased unrest and police distrust in the city. Once the relationship between the community and police is damaged, it may take years to repair it.

Most news organizations – local or national – are not so reckless as to report complete falsehoods. But presenting emotion-heavy stories, out-of-context videos and putting “experts” on television or in print who don’t know all of the facts of an incident is a disservice to everyone. Police investigations of officer-involved shootings are based on facts. Trained detectives with years of experience in criminal investigations determine the facts of the case. Those facts and findings are then presented to a prosecutor for a determination of whether police acted within the law. Emotions cannot be a factor in conducting a fair and unbiased investigation, and the public should expect no less. And as the Department does with any other criminal investigation, once an officer-involved shooting investigation is closed, the case file is made public, in accordance with the Missouri Sunshine Law.

Fostering distrust between police and the community is a reckless thing to do. Everyone’s safety is put at risk when communities lack the trust to work together to fight violence. We have seen violence spike in recent years in communities where residents don’t have a good relationship with law enforcement. I blogged about that earlier this year. I have worked my entire career here at KCPD to build trust between the department and residents, and it has been one of my top priorities as Chief of Police. And from the feedback I’ve gotten, we’re making real strides.

I’m not saying that we are perfect. If one of the 2,000 members of this department violates policy or the law, we want to know about it, and we will work to correct it as quickly as possible. We have proved as much by taking such allegations seriously. For example, the Office of Community Complaints – an independent civilian oversight organization – was one of the first civilian oversight offices for law enforcement to be established in this country. When a KCPD member has violated the law or department policy, he or she will be held accountable.

But we invest heavily in training to avoid such violations of the law or department policy in the first place. From one call to the next, our officers must be social workers, paramedics or conflict mediators, and we try to prepare them for every situation they may face. Our officers are well-versed in everything from responding to an active shooter to city ordinances.

A city where law enforcement and other community members work together and trust each other is a safer community. It’s a place where people feel free to come to police with their fears or to provide information to capture someone who has committed violence in their neighborhood. Propagating stories to get ratings or readers that rely solely on emotion, or out-of-context snippets undermines that relationship, and ultimately undermines the safety of the city.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Thank you for celebrating with class, Kansas City

These last few days have been huge for our city, and I am extremely proud of how everyone has conducted themselves. The Royals’ World Series win has brought a national spotlight here, and the people of Kansas City have shined. The night the Royals clinched victory, we didn’t have a single arrest related to the game or the following celebration. That fact made national news, from USA Today to TMZ. It was not news to anyone here. It’s what we expected.

That classiness has continued today. With hundreds of thousands of people piling into just a few square miles of our city, we made very few arrests, and those were for very minor incidents. Despite the traffic and the crowding, everyone was happy and civil. I and the other members of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department are so proud to be part of and serve this community. Our officers worked very hard today, but the people of Kansas City made their jobs enjoyable.

Friday, October 9, 2015

A refresher on call prioritization

I posted the below blog two years ago, but it bears repeating, so I'd like to share it again. The stats in it have remained pretty steady. We continue to receive complaints that officers don't respond to lower-priority calls as fast as residents would like. We must allocate our resources efficiently, and deploy them when and where they're most needed. Here's the blog I originally posted in August 2013:

We sometimes hear complaints that police don’t respond as quickly as people expect to certain types of incidents. The most common complaints are for calls about burglaries, car break-ins and non-injury accidents. We have a finite number of officers, so we must prioritize calls in which someone’s life or safety is at risk. Our policy very clearly outlines what types of calls receive priority, but here’s a little more succinct version that our dispatchers follow:

Priority 10: Assist the officer, send immediately

Priority 11 – 13: Calls where there is imminent danger to a person’s welfare (always lights and sirens on), send immediately

Priority 20: Calls where there is a potential danger to a person’s welfare (lights and sirens on if the incident is currently in progress), send within 2 minutes

Priority 30: Calls where the quality of the police response may be degraded if there is a delay, send within 5 minutes

Priority 40: Calls where a delay is acceptable

Priority 50: Calls where a delay of up to 4 hours is acceptable

Last month, July 2013, our median response time for Priority 10 calls (encompassing 10-13) was 7.42 minutes, and it was 9.78 minutes for Priority 20 calls. This is the time from the moment a 911 call is received to the moment an officer arrives on scene.

Consider this snapshot in time: at 10:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, there were 13 units (police cars manned by one or two officers) working in the Central Patrol Division. None were free to take any calls. All were tied up, responding to the following: two assaults, two injury crashes, a stabbing, investigating a suspicious person report, meeting an ambulance, meeting with someone who found a child reported missing and transporting an endangered person to a domestic violence shelter. Another had to testify in court. Two calls were in queue waiting to be dispatched whenever an officer became available. One was a 911 hang-up, and the other was a non-residential burglary.

Although it was a Priority 30 call that was to be dispatched within 5 minutes, the burglary caller had been waiting 65 minutes for police to arrive. I understand that person was probably frustrated. I know victims of property crimes often feel violated and scared, but it would be irresponsible for police to respond to their calls for service before a call in which someone’s safety is currently being threatened. It’s not because what happened to the burglary victim is not important, but like any organization, we must manage our resources as efficiently and responsibly as possible.

As we work to continue improving relationships with the community, it’s important that we keep expectations realistic. Police can’t always show up to non-emergency situations as soon as residents prefer, but we do our best to help those who need us most as quickly as possible. 

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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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