Friday, January 6, 2017

What the "48-hour rule" really looks like after an officer-involved shooting

The year 2016 brought about many positive changes in policing across the country. Locally, I’ve shared many of the ways we’ve updated our training over the past few years on everything from de-escalation to emotional proximity.

Despite top-notch training, police still are sometimes required to respond with deadly force. Earlier this year, I explained what happens in the investigation of an officer-involved shooting. I want to continue to address potential issues that have cropped up elsewhere before they become a point of contention in Kansas City. This past year, police departments in major cities have changed their policies regarding the so-called 48-hour rule for officers involved in a shooting to make a statement. In some places, these rules held that officers who had used deadly force could not be interviewed by investigators until 48 hours after the incident.

Let me first say that is not the case in Kansas City. Officers involved in a shooting here have up to 48 hours after the incident to voluntarily make a statement. Nothing prohibits them from coming in earlier. They can go straight from the scene to Headquarters to describe what happened, if they choose. Should the need arise to obtain a formal statement sooner rather than later for the purposes of filing charges and/or keeping a suspect in custody, officers are asked to make reasonable efforts to provide a statement to the Department within the timeframe necessary for filing charges.

We’ve heard criticism such as, “Well if I shot somebody, I’d be put in custody and taken to Headquarters and asked to give a statement.” If there was clear evidence of criminal wrong-doing, yes, you would. So would a police officer. If evidence at the scene indicates a police officer violated the law when using force, that officer also would be taken into custody and questioned. And both you and the officer would have the right to refuse to say anything. That’s why, upon arrest, police say, “You have the right to remain silent.” Both you and the officer would be presented with a Miranda form, and both of you could refuse to sign it and refuse to speak to detectives. And both the officer and you would have the right to legal representation should either of you decide to speak to detectives. Both cases would be considered criminal investigations.

On the flipside, if you shot a person in self-defense, and initial investigation determined that you acted lawfully, you would be given time (say, up to 48 hours) to come in and give a statement to police. A police officer who, upon initial investigation, also appears to have acted in self-defense gets the same treatment.

There have been numerous and sometimes conflicting studies on when the best time is for someone involved in a traumatic incident to make a statement: when their recall is most accurate, when might be most impactful on their mental health and a number of other factors. I’m not going to get into those here. I just wanted to provide some insight into how the “48-hour rule” following an officer-involved shooting in Kansas City really works. Fundamentally, a resident who shoots someone in self-defense is treated the same way an officer would be, and vice versa. Police officers have the same constitutional rights as any other citizen. 

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Gun safety training can prevent deaths and injuries in 2017


A change in state law will go into effect on Jan. 1 that will have a large impact on firearms possession in Missouri. This was a law I opposed in the 2016 legislative session, but now that it has become a reality, the best we can do is urge people to please be safe.

Senate Bill 656 eliminated the need for anyone age 19 or older to secure a permit to acquire and carry a firearm, among other provisions. Previous concealed carry laws required those seeking to carry a firearm to complete a training course that teaches gun owners how to safely and responsibly carry, shoot and store firearms. That is a very reasonable and appropriate step for possessing a deadly weapon. Our own officers spend months in the Police Academy learning how to properly handle a gun and then get updated firearms training twice annually.

We heavily encourage gun owners to continue to seek professional training on the proper care, handling and storage of a firearm. Although it no longer is mandated, it is essential to the safety of you, your family and anyone who comes into your home. We see far too often what happens when guns are handled and stored improperly.

I’d like you to consider just these 2016 cases in which our most vulnerable residents, children, were killed or hurt in Kansas City because of guns that were not stored or handled safely. Some you may have heard about in the news, and some you haven’t:

· On April 27, an 18-month-old found her father’s unsecured and loaded handgun and shot herself to death while her father slept. The father is charged with then trying to hide the gun.

· On July 30, another 18-month-old showed up at a local hospital with a gunshot wound through his calf. Family stated a man came over to show the baby’s father a gun, and in the course of doing so, it went off and shot the child. The victim survived.

· On October 27, a 5-year-old used a foot stool to climb onto a kitchen counter. He reached into a kitchen cabinet, found a loaded gun and accidentally shot and killed his 3-year-old brother.

· On November 6, a man said he was cleaning his handgun with his 12-month-old next to him when the loaded gun went off. The bullet went through his arm and struck his infant daughter in the back. She survived but sustained critical injuries to her pelvis and spine.

· On November 12, a woman who was 6 months pregnant, her boyfriend, her sister and her 1-year-old niece were “play fighting” in a bedroom of their home when the boyfriend retrieved a gun as part of the play fight. The pregnant woman said the gun usually was unloaded, so she wasn’t concerned. But this time it was loaded, and it went off, striking the pregnant woman in the groin. She suffered from the injury, but the unborn child was not harmed.

· On November 29, two 15-year-old boys got together to play a game of basketball. One wanted to show the other a gun he had somehow acquired. The first boy took out the magazine to show the second the bullets. After he put the magazine back in, he said he intended to pretend to fire the gun. The gun actually did fire, striking the boy’s friend in the face. The boy with the gun immediately started apologizing. The victim survived. 



Proper firearms training and storage likely could have prevented every one of those incidents. Those are just some examples this year from Kansas City. In the first half of 2016, a child died every other day in America because of accidental gunfire, according to research by USA Today and the Associated Press. The 2014 report, Innocents Lost, found that 70 percent of unintentional child gun deaths could have been prevented by proper storage alone. A total of 61 percent of the deaths occurred in the victim’s home, 10 percent at a relative’s home and 10 percent at a friend’s home. That’s why it is important for every single person who owns a firearm to obtain training to know how to use, handle and store it.

The KCPD and many other local organizations also distribute free gunlocks. Call any of our patrol stations, and we will help you find one if you need it.

One other case in which a child was hurt by unintended gunfire this year happened on the Fourth of July. A 16-year-old boy was outside his home lighting fireworks with friends when he thought a firework had struck him in the shoulder. When the burning pain didn’t stop, he realized he’d been shot. An emergency room doctor determined the bullet’s trajectory; it had come from the sky above the boy and headed straight down. The teen had been hit by celebratory gunfire.

Shooting guns off in the air is dangerous and illegal, and we see a lot of it on New Year’s Eve. Endangering the lives and property of your neighbors is no way to celebrate. The reality is that any bullet discharged from a gun, even into the sky, must land somewhere, and when it does, there’s significant risk of injury or death. Celebratory gunfire killed an 11-year-old Kansas City girl on July 4th five years ago, and it hurt a 16-year-old boy this year. The family of the 11-year-old girl went door to door with our officers this year in the days leading up to the 4th of July to visit houses where our Shot Spotter gunshot detection system determined there had been celebratory Independence Day gunfire the previous year. They pleaded with residents in the area not to shoot off guns and make any other family suffer what theirs has had to go through.

A few other gun safety issues as we enter the New Year that I wanted to address in our efforts to make Kansas City as safe as possible: If you own a gun, it is very important that you record its serial number and keep that number in a safe place. And although it is not required by law, (legislation has been pre-filed in the Missouri General Assembly that could mandate it, however) always report if your gun has been stolen. If your gun is stolen, reporting it helps police track down where it’s been and who has been using it (and having the serial number makes this much easier). Stolen guns are used in a host of violent crimes in Kansas City. We recover shell casings at every shooting scene and work tirelessly to match them back to guns. Being able to establish a chain of custody of those crime guns is imperative to solving cases and preventing future gun violence.

The Kansas City Missouri Police Department works hard to prevent shootings in our city, and we need everyone’s help to do it in 2017.
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Monday, November 28, 2016

In large and dangerous gun battle, KCPD & others performed with valor and professionalism

An exceptionally large and violent shooting incident in the early morning hours Sunday tested the members of our department on all fronts, from courage to coordination. And I couldn’t be more proud of how we responded.

Here’s what happened: At approximately 2:18 a.m. Nov. 27, officers were called to Gregory & Prospect on the sound of shots. Upon arrival, officers observed suspects actively shooting at each other. Fearing for their safety, one officer fired shots. Due to the gunfire, three vehicles were involved in an accident. While securing that scene, officers heard numerous shots fired in their immediate area, for several minutes. Officers saw vehicles near the initial scene involved in a rolling shoot-out. Due to continuous gunfire and an active scene, KCPD requested assistance from police around the metro area. Law enforcement from numerous surrounding agencies responded and assisted with the incident, which spanned from 70th to 72nd streets, Prospect to Brooklyn. Seven people were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. Six have now been treated and released. No officers were injured during the incident. At this time one suspect stated he was shot by police and was treated for minor injuries.

This incident endangered the lives of hundreds of people. Much of the rolling gun battle took place on residential streets. It covered eight square blocks. Numerous houses were struck with bullets, and it is incredibly fortunate that no one inside them was hurt. Shots continued to be fired while police tried to aid those who were already shot. Those firing these shots had no regard for the life or safety of others. As I said in my previous post, this altercation didn’t arise from nowhere. Someone knew a dispute was brewing, and they didn’t tell us. Someone had to see at least one of these suspects angry and armed, and no one called until the bullets started flying. Police alone cannot stop this violence. We need your help to intervene.

That said, the police response to this incredibly dangerous incident is one of which all Kansas City, Mo., and metro-area residents should be proud. Much of that started with excellent direction and coordination from dispatchers. The amount of information that was coming in and the efficiency with which they distributed it was remarkable. Even with eight assisting outside agencies, they worked quickly and professionally to get everyone what and where they needed and kept track of all responding personnel. They truly are a credit to emergency telecommunicators everywhere.

On the ground, our officers rushed toward the danger. This was an incredibly volatile and dangerous situation with multiple active shooters, and the officers responded without hesitation. Where others would flee, they went right into the hail of gunfire. They risked their own lives and safety to protect the residents of our city, and their valor has not gone unnoticed. Everyone who responded to the Gregory and Prospect area that night showed up ready to work and with a positive attitude, even knowing the danger and the magnitude of the task ahead.

We also enjoyed an exceptional response from the metro-wide assist-the-officer call issued. Officers from eight different agencies responded to assist with everything from holding the perimeter of the incident to protecting multiple crime scenes to going to different hospitals where suspects/victims were taken. These officers were eager and ready to help, and I want to make sure everyone in the metro area knows what an asset they were. They came from the following agencies:

Missouri
Ferrelview Police
Independence Police
Jackson County Sheriff’s Office
Missouri State Highway Patrol
North Kansas City Police
Raytown Police


Kansas
Leawood, Kan., Police
Prairie Village, Kan., Police

I also want to thank all the responding Crime Scene technicians and detectives. The 8-square-block crime scene they had to process and canvass early Sunday morning was only the beginning of their duties. Their thorough and professional work will ensure that those involved in this violent criminal act will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

While the act of violence early Sunday morning was awful, I could not have asked for a better or more professional team to handle it. I apologize if I left anyone out. The response was so seamless; it can be difficult to discern everyone who was involved. I just know I am very proud of everyone who responded, and the residents of Kansas City should be, as well.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A majority of this year's homicides could not have been prevented by law enforcement

As of today, 107 people have been killed in a homicide in Kansas City this year. That is a significantly higher amount than at this time in years past. But what is different about this year is the relationship between victims and suspects. Contrary to popular belief, a majority of these homicides could not have been prevented by law enforcement. No amount of officers on patrol can stop a simmering family dispute or someone who chooses to end a petty argument with a firearm.

Through initiatives like the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, we have made a significant impact on what we call group-related violence. This violence arises out of criminal groups’ illegal activities and cycles of retaliation. (Some might refer to these groups as “gangs,” but not all of them are.) When KC NoVA fully came to fruition in 2014, Kansas City experienced its lowest homicide rate in more than 40 years, with 82 murders. And you know what? The group-related homicide rate has remained relatively consistent since then. The work of KC NoVA and its community partners is keeping that in check with everything from social services to strict enforcement on members of particular groups in which a violent crime occurs.

But there are so many other homicides we can do nothing about. Consider the two people murdered this past weekend. One was a son who killed his father. The other was a woman who got into an argument with another woman and asked her boyfriend to go over and confront the woman she was fighting with. It appears the boyfriend shot up a car full of people, not just the woman in question. One died, and three others were transported to hospitals in critical condition. The only way law enforcement could have intervened in either of those situations was if someone notified us. And we are begging you to let us know when something like this is occurring or about to occur.

In so many of this year’s homicides, someone had to know that something was amiss. Someone had to know a dispute was brewing. Someone had to know that their friend or family member was angry and armed. If someone had called us, officers might have been able to stop the homicides from ever taking place. As City Council Member Alissia Canady said at our Board of Police Commissioners meeting this morning, “Everyone is looking for us to do something, but it needs to come from the community.”

We know the motive in 53 of this year’s 107 homicide cases. Of those 53 homicide motives we know, 24 of them were arguments. Instead of resolving a conflict through discussion and compromise, poor anger management skills and easy access to guns have led to the death of at least 24 people in Kansas City this year. Again, in many of these cases, multiple people knew that a conflict was at hand, but no one reached out to law enforcement to ask for help in changing the eventual outcome.

The second-most frequent motive that we know of in this year’s homicides has been domestic violence, with 14 cases. Two of those were murder-suicides. Not all were intimate partner violence. Several involved parents and children. Domestic violence rarely erupts into homicidal levels of violence out of the blue. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship – even if it is with your own child – please contact us. We can work with victims to get them the resources they need to stay safe.

Seven of this year’s homicide victims have been 16 or younger. Several of them were young children – innocent bystanders who were victims of adults unable to resolve conflicts in a civil manner. Their loss should outrage us all.

With homicides up over recent years, and many people asking us, “why?” I encourage everyone in Kansas City to ask themselves that question. I ask everyone to consider what your role is in decreasing the violence in our community because you have much better reach and influence than we do over the people you know. If you know someone is angry, unstable and armed, tell us. If you know a conflict is about to escalate into violence, tell us. If you know someone who is being victimized by a violent abuser, tell us. It’s the only way police can intervene.

Send comments to kcpdchiefblog@kcpd.org

Monday, October 24, 2016

Police deserve same raises as employees of other City services

We are always working to make the Kansas City Missouri Police Department a first-class law enforcement agency with members of the highest quality to serve the people of our community. I want to ensure our department recruits and retains public servants of the highest caliber who reflect the make-up of our city.

Numerous things have made that more difficult in recent years: the increased scrutiny police are under nationwide, the increased danger they are facing (officers killed by firearms so far this year are up 47 percent compared to this date last year), and issues of morale and pay.

As I wrote here earlier this year, we have eliminated more than 100 law enforcement and 100 non-sworn positions to stay within our budget. Despite these efforts to ensure police are not taking an outsize portion of the City budget, it appears the police department is slated to receive the lowest raises of any City services over the next three years.

In the City’s Five-Year Citywide Business Plan, which Council Members are set to vote on Thursday, employees of all other City services are slated to receive raises ranging from 2.5 to 4.7 percent each of the next three years. During that time, KCPD members are only set to receive 2 percent raises each year. The members of our department deserve equal pay treatment with the employees of other City services. The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners adopted a resolution stating the need for this parity in 2011.

The Olathe, Kansas, Police Department conducted a police compensation analysis in May of this year, comparing the salaries and benefits of area public safety departments. That showed KCPD officers had the highest starting salary in the metro area, but we fell to 10th place out of the 12 agencies compared for officers who had reached their top pay step.

In an urban environment with high workloads, significant violent crime and intensive scrutiny, it can be difficult enough to retain high-quality officers and non-sworn staff. A financial plan that does not value police employees as much as employees of other City services has the potential to negatively impact police morale and employee retention.

To continue to serve our city with the highest-quality employees, I support KCPD members receiving annual salary increases on par with those in City services.

Send comments to kcpdchiefblog@kcpd.org. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Officer-involved shootings, from training to investigation

With officer-involved shootings in the national spotlight the last few years, I want to share how the members of the Kansas City Police Department train to deal with potential threats and how to avoid them, what happens if a shooting does take place, what’s made public and what isn’t, and how we will work with the FBI, prosecutors and U.S. Attorney’s office to investigate. 

Training

I’ll start with our training. In the last couple of years, we have developed and implemented ground-breaking training on how to de-escalate situations so we can avoid having to make a shoot/don’t-shoot decision. Police departments from around the nation have contacted us about this training so they could give it to their officers. I discussed this in a post last year about officers’ well-being:

“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.”

Our training staff developed more training along these same lines this year. Our officers now must qualify on their firearms twice annually. At their first qualifying sessions, they learned about the importance of proximity – both physical and emotional – in preventing the escalation of a situation. This article provides more information about what went into that training.

At their second qualifying session this year, officers are learning how to provide first aid to anyone they might have hurt (also discussed in the above linked article). A big part of this is determining whether a situation is stable and if an armed subject still poses a threat. On many occasions, an injured subject will fall to the ground still clutching and able to fire a gun. But if this is not the case, our officers are being instructed to provide emergency first aid to anyone injured by police use of force until an ambulance can arrive. We did this in an incident on Aug. 27. The suspect survived.

Even with all the de-escalation, proximity and first aid training in the world, however, officers may be forced to use lethal force against someone, resulting in fatal wounds. No one wants that to happen, but police must protect themselves and others.


Shoot/Don’t Shoot


Recently, a suspect pointed a gun at our officers, and the officers did not shoot. This is not unusual. Kansas City Missouri Police encounter shoot/don’t shoot scenarios often, and they make split-second, life-or-death decisions in those situations with varying outcomes. No situation is the same. Although the officers in the most recent incident did not shoot, they would have been legally justified if they did. The suspect was threatening their lives by pointing an assault rifle at them. Based on their training and experience, other officers might have chosen to shoot, and they still would have responded to the threat appropriately, according to the law and our department’s policy.

No officer ever wants to take a life, and we are training to avoid such situations whenever possible. But if an officer or resident’s life is threatened, we must respond to protect ourselves and others.


The Investigation

If an officer-involved shooting does take place, several things happen to ensure a thorough investigation, beginning at the scene of the incident. Multiple people respond to the scene of an officer-involved shooting, including the county prosecutor or someone from his or her office, our lead legal adviser, the commander of the Internal Affairs Unit, crime scene investigators, usually myself and the police shooting team, among others. Nothing is done in a vacuum.

The police shooting team is a squad of specialized detectives charged with preparing the investigative case file that will go to the prosecutor. As with any other shooting case, they collect victim and witness statements, gather evidence and present their findings to the prosecutor. After submission to the prosecutor’s office for their review on whether charges are warranted against the officer, the case file also is reviewed by Internal Affairs, our Notable Events Review Panel, training staff and commanders. There are multiple checks and balances to ensure the investigation is fair and unbiased. It also provides opportunity for analysis on whether additional training is warranted.

We made an even bigger step toward transparency and independent investigation of officer-involved shootings last December when we announced an unprecedented memorandum of understanding between our department, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We already were doing everything covered by the MOU, but this memorandum formalized our procedures.

I have wanted to put this agreement in writing since I became Chief of Police. I initiated the drafting of this MOU and am pleased with the transparency and confidence it provides to other segments of our community.

U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson explained the agreement at a press conference on Dec. 9, 2015. The agreement proactively addresses allegations of the excessive use of force by a KCPD officer, marking an extraordinary partnership between local and federal law enforcement. As soon as there is a notification of such an allegation, the matter can referred to the FBI to make an unbiased assessment.

U.S. Attorney Dickinson explained the rest of the process:

“In some cases, the FBI may determine that a federal civil rights investigation is warranted and refer the matter to my office. In other cases, the FBI may determine that a state criminal investigation is warranted and refer the matter to the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, or the FBI may determine that police officers acted lawfully and appropriately, and no further investigation is warranted.

“Whatever the outcome, the public can rest assured that any and all allegations of excessive use of force by KCPD officers are being fairly investigated and justly resolved.”


What Is and Isn’t Public

In terms of public accessibility, a police shooting investigative case file is treated like any other investigative case file. No part of it is made public until the case is fully adjudicated. We don’t release the name of any suspect until he or she is charged. Police officers involved in a shooting are treated the same way: their names aren’t released unless they are charged with a crime in a court of law.

And just as we would not release video evidence in any other shooting case to protect the integrity of the investigation, we do not release police dash-cam or any other video evidence in an officer-involved shooting case until it is adjudicated and closed.

In fact, the Missouri Legislature nearly unanimously passed a bill this year restricting public access to police video, and Gov. Jay Nixon signed it into law. The measure blocks the public from accessing footage recorded by body-worn cameras or police dash-cam while investigations are ongoing. Once an investigation is over, any footage recorded inside a home, school or medical facility remains largely off-limits.

Let me be clear that no officer wants to be put in a situation in which he or she must decide to shoot someone. But suspects do threaten the lives of officers, and officers must employ their training and experience to decide how to best protect themselves and others. Sometimes this means they must fire their service weapon to stop the threat.

I take pride in how well-trained our officers are and am confident they have received some of the most cutting edge instruction in the country on how to navigate a possible shoot/no-shoot situation. I also am confident in the integrity and accuracy of our investigative processes. Multiple levels of review – both internally and by the FBI and U.S. Attorney – assure our community that the actions of any KCPD officer involved in a shooting are comprehensively reviewed for adherence to the law and department policy. The people of Kansas City deserve nothing less.

Send comments to kcpdchiefblog@kcpd.org.

  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

I'm proud of our officers & will keep addressing difficult issues

There has been some concern about my recent comments to the Kansas City Star regarding police-involved shootings of black males. I’d like to point out the comments in the 2-minute video on the Star’s web site were filmed three weeks ago and were a very short portion of a much longer interview and article that are scheduled to be published soon. I think those additional pieces will lend greater context to what I said. 

I’d also like to welcome anyone with concerns about anything I say or do to contact me directly. I’d love to discuss the issues one-on-one and perhaps provide more context and the reasons behind my thinking. 

I do respect others’ opinions, and I apologize if anyone was offended by my comments about police-involved shootings of black males. I said some of those incidents were the result of unreasonable fear and poor training on behalf of the police. I was in no way referencing any particular incident or any particular department. Over the last several years, we have seen many officer-involved shootings of black males throughout the country. These have created outrage, and to ignore these sentiments and give no thought to what police can do to improve the situation would be irresponsible. 

The Kansas City Missouri Police Department is a very good department composed of dedicated men and women who regularly confront danger with courage and difficult situations with discernment and compassion. But just because we are good does not mean we can’t be better. We have initiated new training in the last few years to address tactical disengagement and redeployment, appropriate threat assessment, and to cope with mental health issues that could impact the way we do our jobs. (You can read more about the latest training in our department’s June newsletter​.) 

We have put great effort toward more positive interactions with other segments of the community. Because it’s not just police who can have unreasonable fears: Other members of the community can have unreasonable fears of police. We’re working together to overcome those. 

Other police departments in the metro area and nationwide are engaging in similar training and outreach. My comments in no way were meant to demonize law enforcement. It’s a profession for which I hold very deep respect and of which I am proud to call myself a member for 31 years. I respect those who serve and the labor organizations who represent them, as well. But police in the United States are facing unprecedented scrutiny, and we have some issues to work through. Talking about those issues may be uncomfortable, but it is needed, so I will continue to have those discussions. I will continue to address the changes that need to be made to improve the service of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, and what other members of the community can do to improve the safety of their neighborhoods. 

I am proud of all the members of KCPD. They are dedicated public servants who, in the face of some of the most difficult situations in our city, strive to live out our mission of protecting and serving with honor and integrity.