Monday, March 16, 2020

Working together to stop the spread of coronavirus and keep first responders healthy

Everybody is feeling the effects of the social distancing efforts needed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. For the next two to four weeks (or however long health officials recommend), we all have to make personal sacrifices for the good of the whole. Maybe you’re not at great risk for serious effects of the virus, but I bet you have a loved one who is. What would you do to protect that loved one? Now is the time to think about what you can do for others, not just how it may affect you. We all need to act in that manner to protect everybody else’s loved ones.

We all have to work together to stop the spread so our healthcare system has room to treat the sickest patients. This teamwork is not unlike what we all must do to stop violent crime in our community. With a little bit of prevention, we could all really change the course of a pandemic. Kansas City has a strong history of coming together to handle all types of situations: from deployment and food rationing during World Wars, to acts of mother nature that have torn our city apart, we come together to accomplish what is necessary. Our calling now is to stop the spread of this virus while taking care of those who get ill. As of today, health officials are urging us to refrain from gatherings with 10 or more people.

Of course, we have to look out for the well-being of our own employees, as well. Police and other first responders must remain as healthy as possible and available to serve our community. In the future, we may need to make adjustments in our deployment or methods of gathering report information, but rest assured that any priority in this city will be handled.

This situation has been taxing on all of us. The police department has had to make decisions that frankly have not been considered during my 32 years of service. This police department has worked tirelessly to build relationships in this city and to suspend activities that go to our core mission in building these relationships come with much thought, and frankly it is extremely difficult to suspend activities that we cherish. So far, we have:

- Suspended all community events and meetings in police facilities, from free tax preparation to neighborhood meetings to the Citizens Police Academy.
- Canceled ride-alongs.
- Encouraged officers to practice good hygiene, not shake hands and meet in open areas and/or on porches if possible.

If you have possible COVID-19 symptoms and need to call for help, please advise 911 call-takers of your illness so first responders can be prepared when coming into contact with you.

Please look for updates here, on our web site and our social media, which is where we will notify you of any practices we are changing to keep our workforce healthy and ready to help Kansas City get through whatever happens in these unprecedented times. When we all work together, we are safer and stronger.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

To curb violence, more officers are needed

If you’re the leader of a police department in a city that’s ranked the fifth-most violent in the nation, where would your budget discussion start?

It’s budget time again in Kansas City, and as our budget comprises nearly 38% of the City’s general fund, there has understandably been a lot of discussion about it, and there should be. Board of Police Commissioners President Nathan Garrett stated at last week’s Board meeting that KCPD needs more officers than the ten additional officer positions currently in the City’s proposed budget.

The Kansas City Star published an editorial Monday stating KCPD does not need 65 more police officers, which is a number Commissioner Garrett cited at the meeting. That would bring us up to 1,400 total officer positions. After Kansas City’s 1968 riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., then-Mayor Ilus Davis convened a Commission on Civil Disorder. The report recommended in August 1968 that KCPD should have 1,500 officers. That was more than 50 years ago, and we have never met that goal.

This department has made many efforts to enhance relationships with the community, but with our current staffing, officers are primarily limited to responding to 911 calls. This limits proactive and community policing.  

The Star editorial points out that Kansas City has more officers per 10,000 people than cities like San Francisco, Tampa or Dallas. Those cities also have remarkably less violent crime. In 2019, Kansas City’s homicide rate per 100,000 was 30.1. That means for every 100,000 residents of our city, 30.1 were murdered. That rate was 4.6 for San Francisco, 6.9 for Tampa and 15.5 for Dallas. Only one of those cities barely reaches half our homicide rate. So to have a budget discussion of the number of officers we need solely based on what works per capita in other cities is an insult to the victims of violent crime in our community.

The Star editorial’s concern over our request for additional officers is it would negatively impact the City’s overall budget. The Police Department isn’t looking to take money from all other City services. We are a partner whose job is to secure the safety of the City. If the City is unsafe, people won’t want to live, work or visit here, and that would hurt everyone.

Commissioner Garrett pointed out that it’s our job and responsibility to put forth a budget request for what we think appropriately meets the needs of this city. In fact, Commissioner Garrett pointed out several things in response to the Editorial Board’s questions days prior to its publication, which I’ve included here:

Editorial Board Question: As you know, the proposed budget calls for spending 38% of the general fund on police, almost twice the level required by state law. Do you believe there should be any limit on how much money taxpayers should spend on the department? Are there any ways the department might find savings in its own spending to provide funding for additional officers?

Nathan Garrett’s Answer:  We really don’t think of it in terms of measuring our proposal against the overall budget (percentage wise) when we make our ask; though I recognize, of course, that there’s a natural, process-oriented limit to how much of the City’s revenue our services can consume. Our responsibility is to identify critical needs we believe translate into more effective and responsible police services for our community. How that translates vis-√†-vis the overall City budget is what it is; though, again, we have the overall budget in mind when we engage in the process and fully recognize the balance of the City’s obligations. We’re a team player, but our job is to fight for the law enforcement needs of this City; it’s the job of others to balance those needs against other services and responsibilities. As for finding internal savings, we’re constantly engaged in that process and recognize our role in responsibly managing the resources we’re given. To this end, we also aggressively pursue grant funding and other community-oriented sources of revenue in an effort to augment the ask we make on the City. Chief among these contributors is the Police Foundation, which has been a stalwart in providing supplemental funding to our Department. These outside sources of revenue reduce the ask on the City and are something we feel a responsibility to pursue—and are eternally grateful for the response received. Lastly, we’ve made some very difficult, less-than-popular decisions within the Department to address enforcement priorities. Dismantling Mounted Patrol might have been the most vocally controversial thing we’ve done, but we felt it was the right thing to do in light of the alarming rise in gun violence. Those positions, as you know, were allocated to our homicide division. Likewise, we made other internal personnel maneuvers—following our audit review process—that allowed us to increase our assault squads (non-fatal shootings) by 12 detectives. While we’re always taking from something to give to something in these situations, that’s the recurring responsibility we have—make certain our resources are used in the most effective and efficient manner to address the most critical needs of our City.   

Editorial Board Question: Should the police board be more active in making those spending choices, since it controls the department, not the City Council?

Nathan Garrett’s Answer: The Board is always involved in this process, and our conversations with the Chief and his staff are near daily. The monthly Board meetings constitute a fraction of the time dedicated to the operations of this Department—fiscally and otherwise. And while it is not the Board’s job to micro-manage the daily spending of our resources, those expenditures are naturally related to our operational priorities and initiatives—something we are heavily engaged in. So, yes, we should be involved in our spending choices at a macro level and continue to ensure we have the right staff with the right directions in place to carry out the more daily, micro-oriented decisions.

Editorial Board Question: If there is additional information you wish to provide, please do so. 

Nathan Garrett’s Answer: We are admittedly a large bureaucracy, and as such, our efficiencies are not at a level of satisfaction for any of us—especially those of us in the private sector. We can and should continue to aggressively police ourselves and do our level best—even in the face of labor, legal and bureaucratic challenges—to make the best, most efficient use of our resources focused directly and most intently on the safety of our community.

This police department takes financial responsibility very seriously. We’re not looking to take over the city. We’re trying to find ways to address the violent crime issue in a way that is both reasonable and effective. Adding police officers is one of the only proven ways to do so that is within our control. This is discussed in the book Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt.

We firmly believe more officers can help. The number of officers needed obviously is up for discussion, but to base that solely on per capita numbers and dollars is short-sighted and wrong.

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Friday, February 14, 2020

Lessons from a big celebration: beware of thieves

The day of the Chiefs victory parade was an amazing day, and we learned a lot from everything that happened that day. We’d like to pass along some of those lessons learned to you. The parade and rally showed us the need for folks attending large events to always be vigilant. Did you know 16 people reported that they got pick-pocketed during the event? Most of them were around the rally at Union Station.

One wallet, five cell phone-wallet combos and 10 other cell phones were stolen. Most of these items were taken from parade-goers’ back pant pockets or coat pockets. Many of the victims reported that they felt someone touch them, but it was crowded, and they didn’t see anyone stealing anything. The stolen phones are long gone. We’ve pinged some of them in Maryland, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

There also were 12 cars broken into during the time of the celebration – with eight of them in the area of 19th to 22nd Streets, Paseo to Holmes. That’s where several rally-goers parked.

Criminals are opportunists. They see a large gathering of distracted people as the perfect chance to make off with some valuable property. And while Kansas City might not host such a large-scale event until next year (fingers crossed!), we have still have several sizeable gatherings coming up soon such as the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Kansas City loves to host events like this, but we need everyone attending to do their part to make them safe and successful. Make yourself and your property unappealing to thieves. Keep your phone and wallet on your person where you can see them. Don’t leave anything of value in your vehicle. Don’t leave your vehicle running unattended. Doing those things could prevent crimes not just at big events but would eliminate thousands of crimes in our city year-round.

The weather will soon be getting warmer, which means more and more people will be heading out to the fun gatherings and events that make Kansas City such a great place to live. You won’t be able to enjoy those outings, however, if you come home to stolen property, so take a minute before you go to ensure all your things are secure.

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Monday, February 3, 2020

We've got all hands on deck for the Chiefs victory parade!

Like everyone else in Kansas City, we are elated about the Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory! We have been preparing for this possibility for quite a while and are ready to host what is likely to be the biggest celebration this city has seen since the Royals World Series win in 2015.

The victory parade is an all-hands-on-deck event for KCPD. Additionally, law enforcement agencies from around the metro area have dedicated some of their limited manpower (and womanpower!) to assist us that day. All of us at KCPD are very grateful for their assistance, and it shows what a truly cohesive metro area we have and how well we work together. This is a regional event, and it will be handled with regional resources. There will be hundreds upon hundreds of officers along the parade route and at the celebration at Union Station afterward to ensure everyone has a great time while staying safe. This will not detract from officers working the rest of the city. We are not taking away from our regular patrol division staffing allocation. Instead, we are bringing in everyone from investigative units to Academy recruits to help on the streets that day, as well as the aforementioned outside agencies.

Just as police will have to be flexible that day, so will those who will take part in the festivities. We are expecting hundreds of thousands of people to descend on a very limited area in downtown Kansas City. If you plan to attend, expect very heavy congestion, big traffic delays and huge crowds. Pack your patience. There is only so much police can do to move that many cars and people along. In a large crowd, items and people (especially children) are bound to get lost or separated. We will do everything we can to reunite people and return property to its rightful owners, but please help us by keeping a close eye on your children and keep your property secured.

Additionally, it’s February in Kansas City, so the forecast for the parade calls for cold temperatures. Please dress accordingly. As always, public alcohol consumption also is prohibited.

We can’t wait to celebrate this historic day with you, Kansas City. Thank you for your assistance, and thank you to the Kansas City Chiefs for making this momentous day possible in our community!

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Friday, January 31, 2020

We're ready to help you safely enjoy watching the Chiefs in the Super Bowl

We’re experiencing an incredible moment here in Kansas City, and your police department has been working hard to ensure everyone can have a great time watching the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

KCPD will be fully staffed citywide on Sunday evening, and we’re bringing in an additional 100 officers from units such as Tactical Enforcement and Traffic Enforcement. These additional officers will keep an eye on the city’s entertainment districts, but their assignment is to remain fluid and assist wherever needed.

Speaking of entertainment districts, all of them have shared their security plans with us, which include off-duty KCPD officers who will be assisting with security in those areas. Additional dispatch staff have been assigned specifically to handle calls related to game celebrations.

We’ve made extensive preparations to facilitate people having fun on this historic day for our city. Officers are ready for celebratory honking, yelling, high fives and more. We all have seen things go wrong in other cities that were supposed to be celebrating a championship, and no one wants that here, especially not celebratory gunfire. If you see something that looks like it’s starting to get out of control, please call us so it doesn’t grow into something really bad.

If the Chiefs win, more information about forthcoming celebrations will be posted early next week. In the meantime, we’re looking forward to helping everyone enjoy the game in the home of the Chiefs: Kansas City, Missouri.

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Friday, January 17, 2020

We're making changes to address homicides and non-fatal shootings

While so much of our other crime is trending downward, shootings and homicides remain a persistent issue in our city. Although police are by no means solely responsible for the increase or decrease in these crimes, we are obligated to do everything in our power to address them and bring offenders to justice.

We also know we can’t work in a vacuum. It takes partnerships across the city and an evaluation of best practices nationwide to make the systemic changes needed to impact our stubborn violent crime rate. In 2019, Kansas City had 148 homicides and 491 non-fatal shootings.

A focus on prolific violent offenders

One of the places where you can see that change is happening is with the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, or KC NoVA.  KC NoVA has been and continues to be about focused deterrence, but after extensive evaluation, KC NoVA switched its enforcement strategy last year from targeting group-related violence to targeting individuals who are frequently involved in violent, gun-related crimes. This approach has seen great success in cities like Tampa, which has had a dramatic reduction in violent crime. Although the number of these violent offenders is low, they are responsible for the vast amount of our violent crime. Research from Tampa identified that 6% of their violent offenders were responsible for 60% of violent crime.

As a reminder, KC NoVA is a partnership between KCPD, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, The Jackson County Prosecutor, FBI, ATF, the Mayor’s Office and Missouri Probation and Parole. All of those partners remain at the table with us, and they are integral in reducing the gun-related crimes that plague Kansas City. We work together now more than ever.

But homicides and non-fatal shootings continue to be an issue in Kansas City, so we needed to adapt. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Safety Partnership spent 18 months with us evaluating NoVA and advising us on how we could move forward. The result is this new enforcement strategy that targets the trigger-pullers.

Reviewing non-fatal shootings

The Public Safety Partnership also introduced us to a best practice from police in our peer city of Milwaukee. As of January 8, we are now conducting weekly shooting review meetings. These cover all homicides and non-fatal shootings that took place in the past week and follow up on case progress from previous weeks. Again, this is driven by partnerships with state and federal prosecutors and Missouri Probation and Parole. All of the partners attend the meetings with our investigative and patrol elements to ensure each case is investigated to the best of its ability.

This new meeting of criminal justice partners emphasizes accountability: each of the partners – including KCPD – is holding each other responsible for effectively carrying out their role in the criminal justice process. This is a great improvement in communication and accountability through the whole system.

Adding investigative resources

With the dawn of the New Year, we have doubled the number of detectives assigned to work non-fatal shooting cases. All too often, many of the victims and suspects in these incidents later become victims or suspects in homicides. With 491 non-fatal shootings last year (a 9% increase from 2018), we have doubled the number of detectives in our Assault Squads from 12 to 24. They are charged with investigating cases in which someone is assaulted with a weapon but survives. 

We also have added eight homicide detectives, bringing the total number to 32.

These shifts have led to us moving resources from other places, like Mounted Patrol. That decision wasn’t popular, but it is needed to focus resources on stopping the perpetrators of gun violence in our city.

Ultimately, police can’t be there every time someone decides to resolve an argument with a gun. If you know someone who is planning violence, please let us know. We are making changes, however, to identify those most involved with gun violence, work their case to the fullest extent and ensure accountability with the help of our partners in the criminal justice system and the community.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A look back at the good things in 2019

As police officers, we’re in the business of being there when bad things happen. Therefore, we often become the topic of bad things in discussions. It’s hard for people who are always responding to horrific acts – like our city’s despicable homicide rate – to come up in the same conversation as really great things that happen in our community. As we reflect on 2019, however, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the good things in which our department has gotten to be involved.

Social workers
Our social workers continue to make a tremendous impact on the lives of people throughout Kansas City. This was the first full year we’ve had one at all six patrol divisions. Their job is to help in situations that come to the attention of law enforcement but cannot be resolved by police. They’ve helped a family whose home burned down. They’ve helped victims of domestic violence start new lives. And ultimately, they’ve gotten residents the resources they need to be successful and reduced the need for law enforcement involvement. As of Dec. 3, KCPD social workers have assisted 1,815 people and attended 488 community outreach events in 2019.

Community Interaction Officers
Our 12 Community Interaction Officers (CIOs) – two at each patrol division station – have worked tirelessly to build relationships with residents and make neighborhoods safer. They’ve provided block-watch training for countless neighborhoods to empower residents in keeping their communities safe. The CIOs work with business owners to implement security measures and address concerns. They’ve worked hand-in-hand with social workers to address issues of repeated calls for service to particular addresses and in finding help for families in need.

They have organized countless free community events from family movie nights to job fairs for ex-offenders to health and safety fairs to Christmas parties for deserving youth. Our Kansas City United Against Crime events coordinated by CIOs in the first weekend of October brought communities together to play, learn and get to know one another. Our Halloween events – undertaken with business, church and non-profit partners – gave thousands of children a safe place to go on Halloween. All of these things also built lasting relationships between children, their families and KCPD.

Youth programs
One of the biggest ways we can impact the future safety of our city is through building trust and understanding with youth. I’ve previously written about Teens in Transition, the Police Athletic League and many other things we do to facilitate those relationships. We expanded the Police Athletic League last year to include PAL Nights - a structured and fun environment for urban-core youth on weekend nights in the spring and summer. This offers a safe place for kids to socialize and enjoy themselves while getting to know officers in a relaxed setting. 

I wanted to highlight a few of our other youth initiatives here:

Youth Police Initiative – Our Youth Police Initiative began in 2018, and an academic review of the program in 2019 shows what an impact it’s making. The program’s goal is to bring at-risk youth together with police officers to share personal stories, meals and to let their guards down long enough to have difficult and honest discussions that will create relationships and understanding for both the youth and officers. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice surveyed the 45 participants in our Youth Police Initiative at the beginning and the end of their week in the program. Over the course of that week, the teens who said, “I know at least one police officer who I can trust” went up by 181%. You can read more about it in our February 2019 Informant newsletter.

Youth Police Academy – This week-long version of the Citizens Police Academy for middle schoolers had more than 150 participants from throughout the City. They did everything from dust for fingerprints to learn conflict resolution.

Catching Fury – This camp was designed by women on our department and at neighboring police and fire departments to encourage young women ages 13 to 17 to pursue careers in public safety in partnership with the Girl Scouts of America. More is on p. 3 of our June Informant newsletter.

Explorers – We’ve recently restarted our Police Explorer Program in conjunction with the Boy Scouts of America. This program is for youth ages 14-20 to introduce them to all aspects of our department so that they might consider careers here. Explorers also volunteer with KCPD and will be issued uniforms and radios.

School Resource Officers – We have School Resource Officers (SROs) serving at several high schools in the Kansas City Public School District. They are there in an official capacity to help with security and enforce any laws as needed, but what they really do is serve as mentors. For many of the kids in those schools, the SROs are one of the few people in their lives who offer stability. Many students confide in the SROs, and the SROs have been known to take teens having a hard time under their wings. I would love to be able to expand our SRO program. 

DARE - We have DARE officers in nearly every elementary school in this city - parochial, public and charter - north and south of the River. We believe getting officers in contact with children at a young age teaches them that police are trustworthy and there to help. I regularly hear rave reviews from teachers about the impact our DARE officers have on children in the schools they serve.

Badges for Basics
Our Badges for Basics program is solving crime and building trust with toilet paper and shampoo. This collaboration with the non-profit, Giving the Basics, provides hygiene products to members of our community who have difficulty affording them. Our officers go to high-crime and low-income areas to hand out these products so residents can have dignity. The Badges for Basics partnership earned the Excellence in Collaboration honor from NonProfit Connect’s Philanthropy Awards in May and has been featured in multiple national publications. From March 21 through today, Badges for Basics has given out nearly 30,000 hygiene products.

Holiday help
Just two weeks ago, we partnered with Hy-Vee and Harvesters to provide 500 free Christmas dinners to needy families. On Dec. 23, we worked with Hy-Vee again to deliver catered meals to four deserving families identified by our social workers. Many Christmas gifts were delivered that day, as well. I couldn’t possibly count how much money our members spend out of their own pockets to make the holidays brighter for so many families in our community. It’s not just during the holidays, either. I’d be willing to bet every officer on this department has bought a Happy Meal for a child in a tough situation.

Assisting sexual assault victims
One of our crime scene technicians went viral with her idea to provide new sheets and bedding to victims of sexual assault. CSI usually has to take these items to process for physical evidence, and it often is the only bedding the victim has. When our CSI tech asked for donations of new sheets to provide to victims, the request went viral on our Facebook page in 2018. It recirculated again this year, and we received so many packages of new sheets and bedding in 2019 (from Kansas City and around the world) that we ran out of room to store them and distributed them to neighboring agencies.

Many of the things outlined here are not short-term fixes to problems like violent crime or mistrust of law enforcement. They are means to meeting long-term goals of a safer city for everyone and a trusting relationship between KCPD and the community. We are in it for the long haul. Fixing the problems of violence and mistrust takes long, hard work, and we are committed to that.

We may not be able to convince every last person that we are here for good, but for the 32 years I’ve been here, this police department has been working tirelessly to build as much trust as we possibly can. I think that sets us apart from other cities where a trusting relationship with the community isn’t such a priority for law enforcement. That trust is a very big deal to me and the members of the KCPD, and we will work toward it with every Trunk-or-Treat, social worker visit and 911 response we can.

You may have noticed that many of the good things we got to be a part of in 2019 were the result of partnerships with individuals, non-profits, faith communities and businesses. These are people who care deeply about their city and want good things for it. They help pay for the projector at movie nights, holiday meals at Christmas and Halloween candy for children. They transport beds for our social workers to give to families who don’t have one. They give us hygiene products to help those who need them for dignity. They are the unsung heroes of Kansas City.

What I’ve outlined here are just a very few of the good things we got to be part of in 2019. Yes, we will always be there when the bad things happen, but we look forward to being part of more and more good, as well.

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Friday, November 22, 2019

KCPD's unique governance model serves Kansas City well

The people of Kansas City have a police department they should be very proud of, and many are. We’ve innovated in the areas of social workers and community outreach through additional Community Interaction Officers. We professionally handle dozens of large events every year, from the airshow to the Plaza Lighting Ceremony. We are the largest law enforcement agency in six states and are often looked to as leaders in the Midwest and nationally. This police department strives to make Kansas City a great place for everyone to live, work and play. A well-functioning police department doesn’t happen by accident. It’s because of a group of dedicated men and women who have served on the Kansas City Missouri Board of Police Commissioners through the years. They have invested the time and effort to make sure this city has a police department that is a national model.

Many residents may not even recognize this. What they will recognize is the work ethic, professionalism and dedication that the men and women of the KCPD give every day under the oversight of the Board of Police Commissioners.

As it does every few years, the question of “local control” of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department has resurfaced. The KCPD is governed by a Board of Police Commissioners appointed by the Governor of Missouri and confirmed by the State Senate. They all are residents of Kansas City, Mo. The elected mayor of Kansas City also has a seat on the Board. That’s why the issue at hand isn’t really “local control” but local political control. The Kansas City Council funds the Department, according to state statute. We have operated this way since 1939, when rampant corruption caused the state to take control of the department.

Many say that model is outdated. We believe, however, that it has served the people of Kansas City well for 80 years and will continue to do so. When I attend national conferences, I am pleased to hear about the reputation of the KCPD among other agencies. We are known nationwide as leaders in everything from data-led policing to de-escalation training to social services. We have not experienced the strained community relationships or large-scale scandals other major-city departments have. That’s not by accident. Maybe it’s because of the members of our community who sit on our oversight board.

Under our current governance model, we are agile and adaptable. We can focus resources where they are needed most without being slowed by politics or bureaucracy. We can quickly respond to the needs of neighborhoods and businesses because we aren’t beholden to any particular elected official.

That is not to say that we are not responsive to City Hall. We have a commander assigned full-time to work with city staff and council members. We work together closely to address crime issues in our city. A great example of this is the money the City allocated to boost the reward money for homicide tips leading to an arrest to $25,000 through the Crime Stoppers TIPS Hotline.

State statute mandates that the City allocate at least 20% of its general fund to the police department. For many years, the City has provided more than 20%, and for that, we and the residents of Kansas City should be grateful. We also have consolidated many functions with city staff, most recently information technology. Our great working relationship results in a prudent use of taxpayer dollars for public safety.

The most common argument I hear against our governance model is that we are the only one in the nation who has it. Being unique is not a negative thing. Perhaps we should be seen as the leader after which other agencies should model themselves. Look out a little farther, however, and you’ll see that we’re not that different. The majority of municipal Canadian police departments are overseen by civilian boards of police commissioners, just like KCPD’s. Police are governed this way in most major Canadian cities, including Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Ottawa.

I also hear that our unique system of governance must somehow be the source of the stubborn homicide rate in our city. The other nine cities on the list of the nation’s 10 Most Dangerous Cities have local political control, and that has done nothing to abate the violence in their communities. Many of those cities also have experienced unrest that we haven’t.

We have a Board of Police Commissioners who can focus entirely upon governing the police department. City Councilmembers have many other important functions to oversee, from the airport to street maintenance to sewers. We are fortunate to have an oversight board in which our department is their sole priority. They can review policies and procedures at length. They also are open to public input and have requested it on many occasions, like during the last selection process for Chief of Police. Every month, the Board meets to publicly go over the department’s finances, policies and other items, as well as take comments from the community. You would be hard-pressed to find another City department that gets this level of public scrutiny on a monthly basis.

The Kansas City Missouri Police Department’s form of governance is unique, but that should be seen as a strength, not a weakness. It has allowed our department to function professionally, transparently and respectably for 80 years and hopefully for many more to come. For these reasons and many more, the people of Kansas City should champion the department’s current governance model.

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Friday, October 11, 2019

Study finds police are one of the most trusted groups in America

A recent study from Pew Research Center indicates that police officers are one of the most trusted authorities in America, ranking just below public school principals and ahead of the six other groups discussed in the survey, including religious leaders and journalists. Members of Congress ranked at the bottom of the list.

I think this study contradicts the national narrative that mistrust of the police is raging nationwide. The silent majority of Americans support law enforcement. According to the study, “Police officers also are viewed in a positive light by the U.S. public. More than eight-in-ten (84%) U.S. adults say police officers protect people from crime ‘all or most’ or ‘some of the time.’ Three-quarters or more also say that police officers care about people (79%), responsibly handle the resources available to them (79%) and provide fair and accurate information to the public (74%) at least some of the time.

For several years now, we have seen story after story about how confidence in law enforcement has fallen off or that trust is at an all-time low. According to the Pew study, that is not the case. The stories also say no one would want to be a police officer in times of such mistrust. That hasn’t been our experience, either. We have had a wonderful response to our recruitment efforts and get about a thousand applications for the position of police officer each year. This is a noble profession, and I am grateful that so many people want to pursue it with our agency.

This is not to say we don’t have work to do. The study also pointed out, “Opinions about police officers differ widely by racial and ethnic group, with white people holding more positive opinions about police officers than black people and Hispanics do. … Roughly seven-in-ten white Americans (72%) say police officers treat racial and ethnic groups equally at least some of the time. By way of comparison, half of Hispanics and just 33% of black adults say the same.”

This divide shows where we have work to do, and it’s something we are working tirelessly with the community to address. I believe this starts with our young people, which is why programs like the Youth Police Initiative, Teens in Transition, the KC Police Athletic League (PAL) and more are so important in building trust. Another important piece in bridging that gap is the Office of Community Complaints, which has a national reputation as a premier civilian oversight board that residents can turn to when they feel police aren’t acting in their best interest. Reflecting our community in our staffing remains an ongoing challenge, and one we will continue to pursue.

A community depends on its law enforcement and its trust of that law enforcement. I’m pleased that the Pew Center study showed police are one of the most trusted groups in America, and we have been blessed by all the support we have received and continue to receive in Kansas City. Residents and KCPD members alike want a trustworthy police department we can all be proud of.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Marijuana's impact on public safety needs to be part of the conversation

Most people don’t realize the connection marijuana has to violent crime in Kansas City. On Sept. 10, two men were murdered in their apartment in south Kansas City. A dog was shot and killed, too. The men were known to sell marijuana, and evidence at the homicide scene confirmed that. Investigation has revealed the marijuana dealing was likely the motive of their homicides. So far this year, 10 of our homicides have been directly motivated by marijuana. The non-fatal shootings are even greater. Most of these marijuana-related shootings start as robberies of marijuana or the money connected to it.

The common argument is that this violence would cease if marijuana were simply legalized. The data from states that have done so, however, show just the opposite is happening. The Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) of the Office National Drug Control Policy issued a report in March summarizing what has happened in states that have legalized recreational marijuana for several years. These include California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Some of our drug sergeants also spent time with police in Denver and Aurora, Colorado, this summer to see what they’re doing so we can prepare for medical marijuana coming to Missouri. I wanted to share some of the common myths and facts about recreational marijuana from the HIDTA report and what our detectives experienced.

MYTH: Crime will go down if marijuana is legalized.
FACT: Colorado, Oregon and Washington all experienced increases in violent crime and property crime in the years following legalization. Recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado and Oregon in 2012. From 2012 to 2016, the number of homicides in both Colorado and in Oregon increased by 41%. Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2014. By 2016, their homicides had increased by 248%.

Another crime has sprung up around legalized recreational marijuana in these states: human trafficking. Between 2013 and 2016, Washington saw a 600% increase in these cases. According to the HIDTA report, “Several marijuana-producing states have reported cases of sexual exploitation, kidnapping, and forced labor linked to marijuana grow (operations), particularly in California’s Emerald Triangle region. Migrant workers that travel to the region to work in both legal and illegal growing operations have experienced rape, human trafficking, and other forms of abuse by marijuana growers.”

Reporter Alex Berenson gave a speech outlining the impact of marijuana on mental health and violence. He reported, “A 2012 paper in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence examined a federal survey of more than 9,000 adolescents and found that marijuana use was associated with a doubling of domestic violence; a 2017 paper in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology examined drivers of violence among 6,000 British and Chinese men and found that drug use—the drug nearly always being cannabis—translated into a five-fold increase in violence.”

Our sergeants who visited Colorado saw a family of Chinese nationals who had been trafficked to oversee a large, illegal growing operation in the basement of a $750,000 home in an affluent neighborhood. They learned this was common in that area.

MYTH: Marijuana legalization has no impact on intoxicated driving.
FACT: After recreational marijuana was legalized in California, marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 151%. Fatalities involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana rose from 55 in 2013 to 138 in 2017. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk Study found that marijuana users are 1.25 times more likely to be involved in auto crashes than drug-negative drivers. According to a university study on the economic and social costs of legalized marijuana, 69% of Colorado marijuana users say they have driven under the influence of marijuana at least once, and 27% admit to driving under the influence on a daily basis.

MYTH: Tax revenue generated by marijuana sales will have a significant beneficial impact on the state.
FACT: For every dollar Colorado gained in tax revenue from marijuana sales, Coloradans spent more than $4.50 to mitigate the social costs of legalization, according to the university study. Costs related to the healthcare system and high school drop-outs were the biggest contributors. The estimated costs of DUIs in Colorado for people who tested positive for marijuana only in 2016 approach $25 million. There is certainly a lot of money to be made in legalizing marijuana, but not by the government.

Whether we accept marijuana as a legal part of our society is up to lawmakers and the public they serve. Police, however, are responsible for protecting the public, and there is no doubt that marijuana plays a large role in public safety. Legalization is no panacea, and has in fact increased crime and drugged driving in the states where it has happened. As the commander of the Aurora Marijuana Enforcement Team told our sergeants about legalization making its way to Missouri: “Get ready.” 

There is nothing to prove the rise in violent crime was caused by legalized recreational marijuana in the states that have experienced it. But the correlation is undeniable. The conversation about legalizing marijuana has been largely one-sided. As law enforcement, we must consider the impact this could have on public safety, and that needs to be part of the conversation. We’re not here to stifle the discussion but to add to it. The societal cost and drawbacks deserve as much discussion as any argument made in favor of marijuana legalization.

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