Thursday, June 16, 2016

KC NoVA is building foundation for change in urban core

As of today, Kansas City has experienced 46 homicides, which is a dozen more than at this point in the past two years. (It is on par, however, with where we were in 2012, so it’s by no means unprecedented.) I am as frustrated by this as anyone in this city. Lives are being lost senselessly.

The responsibility of stopping the violence does not rest solely on the police department, but we must and do play a role. Several people have asked me if the number of homicides means the Kansas City No Violence Alliance has failed. The answer to that is a definitive “no.”

I wrote about KC NoVA’s accomplishments in February, but it bears repeating that KC NoVA isn’t a unit of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. This multi-agency collaboration is currently composed of the KCPD, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, the Missouri Department of Corrections, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the City of Kansas City and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

KC NoVA marks the first time all of these entities have been at the same table – the first time we have shared intelligence and resources. This multi-agency collaboration uses police-related technology and front line patrol and investigative elements; identifies violent networks in Kansas City’s urban core and the membership within each network driving the violence. This gang- and group-related violence network intelligence is stored in the Law Enforcement Resource Center and is available to KCPD personnel and all NoVA partners.

It’s worth noting that KC NoVA only deals in gang- or group-related violence, and not all violent crime in Kansas City. It does not track or try to intervene in violent acts that arise from domestic relationships, arguments gone wrong or narcotics-related violence (although certainly there is overlap between people involved in those types of violence and NoVA clients).

Once those involved in violent criminal networks are identified, the NoVA collaboration works to reach the membership with a message that violence no longer will be tolerated; there is assistance available for those wanting to escape the life of violence; but choosing to remain a member of a violent network that continues its involvement in perpetrating violence in our city will result in certain, swift and severe enforcement actions.

About 67 percent of homicides in our city are associated with the groups NoVA investigates. To put that in perspective, the national homicide rate for all people is 2.2 per 100,000. In Kansas City, it’s about 22.2 per 100,000. But for members of the group NoVA has identified, the homicide rate is 550 per 100,000.

We know we have correctly identified the people who are responsible for the majority of Kansas City’s violent crime. So what are we doing about it? Everyone first must understand it has taken decades and generations for today’s culture of violence in the urban-core to form. That is not going to change overnight or even in two years. With KC NoVA, we are building the foundation for change. The impact of NoVA might not be visible in the homicide numbers right now, but I am confident that the relationships and processes are finally in place to turn the tide of violence. At a recent meeting for the Byrne Project of KC NoVA – which focuses specifically on the Prospect Corridor – a resident stood up and said he’d seen more positive changes in the neighborhood in the last few months than he had in all the years he’d lived there.

NoVA proactively is asking community members to enter into violence prevention contracts when investigators feel there is a risk for retaliatory violence. Patrol officers have been trained and work with NoVA and community partners to interrupt cycles of violence. This has never been done before.

Another example of how we’re fostering positive change is the new partnership we’ve forged with the Missouri Department of Corrections. Through this, we are reaching people who are in prison and on probation and parole. NoVA officers and social workers even are going into prisons and letting inmates know that there is hope to come back into their communities, be productive and leave behind the activities that got them incarcerated.

A key piece of KC NoVA is that social service piece. More than 130 people right now are receiving services from NoVA that range from addiction treatment to job skills training. From just January to May of this year, NoVA provided more than 1,100 job leads to clients. Frankly, I’d rather employ and educate our way out of violent crime than arrest our way out of it.

That’s why NoVA leaders are now in talks with the Kansas City School District to implement after-school programs. The hope is these programs will provide additional educational opportunities while keeping kids from being absorbed into a life of criminal activity. Some may call it extracurricular activities, but we call it future violence prevention.

In addition to strict enforcement, these are the kinds of things NoVA is doing. While homicide rates have risen precipitously in other cities (as yesterday’s report from the National Institutes of Justice shows), they have remained steady here. Of course I want there to be fewer murders and acts of violence, but it’s going to take time to turn around a culture of violence acceptance that has been years in the making. KC NoVA has engaged people from around the city to embark on that change, and I think the fruit it bears will be evident for years to come.

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Hiring continues in order to meet community's needs

The 24 new KCPD recruits filled out new-hire paperwork this
morning, June 6.

This morning, I welcomed the 24 members of the 157th Entrant Officer Class to the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. And just a few weeks ago, I swore in the 12 members of the 156th Entrant Officer Class when they graduated from the Kansas City Regional Police Academy. Those dozen officers are now out on the streets for their break-in period with field training officers.

When I announced that we would not fill many vacancies, some were under the mistaken impression that we wouldn’t hire any more police officers. This is not the case. We will continue to hire officers as the budget allows. We always are accepting applications, and you can learn more about the law enforcement hiring process on our web page. The newest recruits will undergo nearly eight months of training in our Academy, on topics from constitutional law to defensive tactics. (Here is more information about our curriculum).

We also are continuing to hire for non-sworn positions. We’re looking for detention facility officers and building operations technicians right now.

Eliminating positions – some of which have been vacant for years – does not mean our hiring processes have ground to a halt. It means we are doing the most we can with the budget we have. We will continue to bring in officers and non-sworn staff to fill spots vacated by attrition.

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Reducing positions while maintaining service

I wrote in my last blog about the staffing challenges the budget for this fiscal year (which began Sunday) presented to our department. We now have worked out exactly where we are going to reduce positions, and I wanted to share that with our community. Keep in mind we are eliminating positions, not people. All the positions that are being reduced this year already were vacant or are expected to be vacated through attrition. Many of these spots have been vacant for years, so it's not as though we're embarking on a sudden reduction in force.

To balance our budget, we had to decrease our 1,457 sworn law enforcement positions by about 8 percent. As a comparison, that’s about the equivalent of the staffing of a whole suburban patrol division (like South, North or Shoal Creek patrol divisions) and then some. Of course we spread these reductions out to minimize the impact on neighborhoods as much as possible. And not all are in patrol. Some will be detective spots, others are training officers, and more.

Here is how eliminated positions break down in some of the most visible bureaus – Investigations and Patrol:

  • 24 from the Investigations Bureau (includes Violent Crime, Violent Crime Enforcement and Narcotics and Vice divisions)
  • 85 from the Patrol Bureau:
     - Central Patrol reduced by 24 positions to 162 officers
     - Metro Patrol reduced by 14 positions to 150 officers
     - East Patrol reduced by 17 positions to 155 officers
     - South Patrol reduced by 13 positions to 94 officers
     - North Patrol reduced by 9 positions to 92 officers
     - Shoal Creek reduced by 2 positions to 92 officers
     - Special Operations Division (includes Tactical Enforcement, Canine, Mounted Patrol, Helicopter and Bomb & Arson) reduced by 2 positions to 81 officers
     - Traffic Division reduced by 4 positions to 85 officers.

This undoubtedly puts more pressure on the officers in the field and increases caseloads for those in investigations. As I mentioned previously, continued reductions in force could lead to increased response times for 911 calls. But we’re doing what we can to abate that.

We’ve come up with a number of ways to help reduce the demand on patrol officers so they can spend the time needed to provide the service our residents expect and deserve, rather than running from call to call. Our Tactical Enforcement officers are increasingly responding to 911 calls for service. Officers in the Traffic Enforcement Division are helping secure crime scenes – a job that used to belong to district officers. This frees the district officers up to answer calls or help with the on-scene investigation. I’ve shifted our Hot Spot program to put officers into the areas that are most in need of police attention. They’re working on everything from seeking out parole absconders and violent crime suspects to helping with community clean-ups and neighborhood meetings. You can read more about those changes in last month’s Informant newsletter.

We’ve realigned several things in investigations to streamline casework and ensure detectives properly follow up with all cases. Our Quality Control Unit is working with officers and detectives to ensure the best cases possible are presented for prosecution, which should help assist detectives as they take on more work.

We're always looking at ways to improve our efficiency. One of the things we're currently examining is how officers' shifts are scheduled. We must work within the budget we are allocated. As you read in my last blog, we have made many cost-cutting moves over the last few years. With law enforcement under more scrutiny than ever before, we will continue to serve our city with professionalism and integrity, no matter the circumstances or budget.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Upcoming budget presents staffing shortfalls

The City Council approved a budget last Thursday, March 24, that will have an impact on the Kansas City Missouri Police Department.

Before I explain what that impact will be, I first wanted to share the cost-saving measures our department has undertaken in the last two years, during which we have faced significant funding challenges:

  • More than 90 percent of our budget goes to personnel costs, so to balance our budget, we have eliminated 100 civilian and 60 law enforcement positions through attrition.
  • Another cost-cutting move was a buy-out last year, which saved the department $1 million.
  • No one at KCPD received a raise last year.
  • We were slated to purchase a little fewer than 80 vehicles last year to replace the ones with very high mileage and maintenance issues. We purchased fewer than 40 vehicles instead. We still had to pay to equip them all with everything from camera systems to radios, which can be almost as much as the cost of the vehicles, themselves.
  • We found a one-time funding source to pay for increased health insurance and ammunition costs.
  • Our department supports the radio system for the entire city, so we take on this cost for departments like Public Works, Fire and just about anyone who has a radio. We also answer all incoming 911 calls. We forward them to Fire Department dispatchers if the call is medical in nature or a fire. Therefore, our department is the only one that pays for 911 call-takers. They answered nearly 1.2 million calls in 2015.
We have cut a great deal of costs. And while we are doing our best to be as effective as possible with what we have, our data shows this is starting to have a negative impact. The time it takes for us to respond to emergencies has gradually increased since May 2015, by up to a minute in some places. We presently have 89 vacancies in our Patrol Bureau.

These are the officers who respond when you call 911. Here are the current law enforcement staffing levels, as compared to how many officers should be assigned, by patrol division:

Currently Assigned
Central Patrol
Metro Patrol
East Patrol
South Patrol
Shoal Creek Patrol
North Patrol

We have left these positions open to stay within our budget. We also have 100 civilian or non-sworn vacancies. This is critical, too, because we sometimes have to pull officers in to do their positions. Non-sworn staff members’ work also provides much of our departments’ backbone: officers couldn’t do their jobs without dispatchers, mechanics, detention officers, CSI technicians and so many more.

Unlike other city departments, we are required by state statute to have a zero balance at the end of each fiscal year. We cannot go over budget. (Mo. Statute 84.760) Nor do we use Public Safety Sales Tax funds to pay salaries. We have not put ongoing personnel costs on a tax that will sunset in a few years.

We gave a decision package to the City Council this year to hire 60 officers to fill some of the above vacancies. They chose not to do so. They did choose to fund a staffing study, which I had requested. But as I told the Council when I presented to them about our budget on March 3, the study inevitably will show we need more people. We won’t be able to hire them with our current allocation from the City, however.

The budget approved by the Council includes money to hire 48 new officers, but our average turnover is 58 officers per year. So with our current 89 vacancies, this will leave us with almost 100 vacancies by the end of the year. Vacancies will be achieved through attrition only. No lay-offs are planned.

To fund normal raises and health insurance increases at current staffing levels, our department needs $6 million more each year. However, we were $3 million short last year, so the next budget needed to go up by $9 million. With additional appropriations of just $5.2 million for fiscal year 2016-17, we essentially received a $3.8 million cut.

Raises are crucial to retaining quality, trained personnel. I’ve seen too many fantastic department members leave for other departments or careers for financial reasons. Our city loses their quality service, and our department loses all the money we invested in training them. It ends up costing much more than an annual cost of living increase.

I am supportive of the funds the City has made available in the FY 2016-17 budget to demolish and repair vacant properties. But that alone will not reduce, prevent and solve all crime. Police are part of that solution, along with engaged residents. Under the recently approved budget, however, the number of police available to assist will continue to dwindle.

We have achieved excellent results on tight budgets for years. We have been good stewards of the tax dollars entrusted to us. Because there are fewer of them, our officers are working harder than ever, and the risk to their safety is increased. The old adage that there is safety in numbers applies to law enforcement, too. Our community deserves a police department that can recruit and retain high-quality members. That makes residents and officers safer. Budget pressures, however, are making that harder and harder to do.

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Beyond a video snippet: Why KCPD used pepper spray outside Saturday's Trump rally

I was supposed to go on vacation Friday and be gone all next week. But when I heard Donald Trump was having a campaign event in Kansas City, I thought it more important that I stay here. Given the unrest his rallies have sparked in other cities, I was concerned for the safety of those who would attend this event, both in support and protest. 

An estimated 500 people gathered in downtown Kansas City last night at the Donald Trump rally. Of those, a small number showed up intent on antagonizing and breaking the law. A video has been circulating showing police using pepper spray against those people. The video is a small moment in time and does not depict what led up to the incident. This is the full story:

Police were dealing with a bomb threat reported inside the Midland Theater as the rally started. At about the same time, I heard officers on the radio saying they were starting to get surrounded by the people outside. The Trump protesters were on both sides of Main Street. They started encroaching onto the street. The opposing sides periodically tried to come together, and officers found themselves breaking up more and more disturbances. The officers called in our Mounted Patrol for back up to break the two groups apart and get them out of the street. In the course of that, a police horse was assaulted. More officers were called in to help maintain safety and order. Some of the people gathered outside began to put on personal protective equipment (gas masks). Several of them tried to rush the front doors of the theater, blocking Main Street in the process. 

Police issued repeated commands to stay out of the street. They warned that pepper spray would be used if those gathered didn’t follow the commands. People had ample opportunity to back up or disperse. Police tried to get them out of the street for three minutes. Those three minutes were just when they were in the street itself. Tensions had been building before that on the sidewalk. They blocked traffic and compromised safety. Some cars caught in the back-up were surrounded. When the crowd refused to obey police commands, officers had to deploy pepper spray on two occasions throughout the evening.   

A total of four people were arrested. Given the circumstances, our officers exercised great restraint. And this morning, no windows are boarded up downtown. No one suffered any injuries beyond the temporary discomfort of pepper spray. The National Guard is not in Kansas City today to restore order.

People in the United States certainly have the right to peaceably assemble and express their views. And police were there to ensure that last night. Citizens do not, however, have the right to put others' safety at risk, destroy property or violate the law. The officers acted to facilitate an environment where law-abiding people could exercise their freedoms safely. And keep in mind that downtown was buzzing last night with people who had nothing to do with the Trump rally, and we had to ensure their safety, as well. There were tens of thousands of people gathered there for the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament and the Mecum Auto Auction, among other events. If events had spiraled out of control, they could have been endangered, too. Our officers acted appropriately to keep a volatile situation under control, and they kept people and property safe. I’m proud of them.

A video that’s a few seconds long does not capture the mood or actions that had culminated over time. This video, or any video, of law enforcement having to use force to protect people will rarely be pretty.  The volatile situation and the harm some people’s actions could have caused were stopped by our officers. Police made wise decisions last night and took action as needed. Thank you to those who continually support our first responders and our community. (And I'll be starting my vacation tomorrow.)

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

KC NoVA continues to make impact on violent crime

Because our homicide statistics returned to “normal” in 2015 after a 42-year low in 2014, many have said that whatever we’re doing must not be working. There were 110 people killed in Kansas City last year. While we couldn’t possibly have prevented every one of them, we have worked diligently to stop those who are most likely to be victims and suspects of crimes through our Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KC NoVA), among other initiatives.

You can’t prove a negative, so it’s impossible to say how many homicides KC NoVA has prevented. Suffice it to say, I wholeheartedly believe there would have been much more violence the past year without NoVA’s work.

KC NoVA is a partnership begun in 2013 between our department, prosecutors, city government, social services and academia. This program has mapped out the relationships of everyone involved in a violent crime in our city over the last four years. Since January 1, 2014, they have identified 57 criminal networks with 1,239 members. These offenders have been identified as being 100 times more likely to be a murder victim than the average Kansas City resident.

KC NoVA targets the most violent offenders – those at the epicenters of these criminal networks – for aggressive prosecution. Consider some of these arrest statistics over the past two years:

Felons in possession of firearms: 31
Other federal firearm arrests: 15
Federal warrant arrests: 17
State warrant arrests: 140
City warrant arrests: 739
Investigative arrests: 214
Parole absconders: 1,354 (NoVA in partnership with other KCPD elements and Missouri Probation and Parole)

KC NoVA officers have checked 2,199 residences, 533 vehicles, 249 pedestrians and 16 businesses. They also have conducted 11 “call-in” events attended by 241 people who have been identified as a member of a criminal network. These call-ins let attendees know the gravity of their crimes and that the full force of law enforcement and prosecution will be on the members of their group if a violent crime takes place.

Just in 2015, members of KC NoVA have sought to interrupt the cycle of violence even more. Thirty-five times since the beginning of last year, KC NoVA members met with the victim of a violent act (if he or she is living) and that person’s associates (friends, family members and whoever else might have influence on them) immediately following a violent act – usually a shooting or homicide. The goal is to prevent retaliatory violence.

Also beginning last year, a customized team of people have been conducting “mini call-ins” at the homes of individuals at risk for violence. These are typically people who police know will not attend a call-in event or have already refused to come. The notification teams can include community members, KCPD officers, a prosecutor, clergy and a member of Mothers in Charge.

Some of the people at greatest risk for committing or becoming victims of violent crime are those who already have committed violent crime. That’s why KC NoVA began extra efforts in 2015 to monitor prisoners who get out on parole or probation. Police and other NoVA partners are now meeting with individuals with a history of violent behavior before they are released from prison and back onto the streets of Kansas City, Mo. This has taken place 37 times in the past year. It’s also like a “mini call-in,” informing the individual that he or she will be closely monitored by law enforcement. It’s also a chance to offer social services to help them reintegrate into society.

KC NoVa is essentially a two-part initiative: enforcement and social services. For those less-violent offenders on the periphery of the mapped-out criminal networks, KC NoVA offers them a way out of a criminal lifestyle through support and social services. KC NoVA’s Social Services component has assessed 337 people for services. Presently, 103 of them are getting help. In partnership with numerous community resources, KC NoVA has provided them with substance abuse treatment, employment assistance, housing services, anger management courses, legal support, clothing, insurance and childcare assistance and mental health treatment. Many clients cannot read or write and have received literacy and education assistance, as well. All clients who get assistance also are now required to complete a conflict resolution course. A majority of the homicides in Kansas City are the result of poor conflict resolution skills.

I am confident that KC NoVA’s work – as well as that of every other member of this police department – is making a difference. The homicide numbers do not tell the full story. Also keep in mind that Kansas City has experienced much of what the rest of the country did last year. The FBI released their crime report a few weeks ago that covered the first half of 2015. Murders were up 6.2 percent nationwide between January and June 2015. Overall violent crime was up 1.7 percent. We were fortunate not to experience the huge spike other cities did. According to the FBI, Kansas City had 36 homicides in the first six months of last year. During that same time, St. Louis had 92, Baltimore had 144 and Milwaukee had 75.

While I am certain we are working very hard to reduce violence in Kansas City, I must again remind everyone that there is only so much police can do. We need the help of everyone in the community to make a difference. From clean-ups in blighted areas of town to mentoring to parenting to reduced access to guns for those who shouldn’t have them – all these things could go a long way to ending senseless violence in our community.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The earnings tax's impact at KCPD

Kansas City’s 1 percent earnings tax presently is up for debate in the Missouri Legislature and up for Kansas City voters to renew in April. The proceeds from this tax make up almost 40 percent of the City's general fund, which primarily supports public safety, including the police department budget. Without it, police would be forced to make significant cuts.

If the tax goes away, the City estimates that 810 sworn officer positions would need to be eliminated. That’s more than 80 percent of the officers we currently have on patrol. In total, we currently have about 1,350 sworn officers, which include investigative, training and specialty elements.

Because of this estimated reduction, police response to some incidents would be significantly reduced and possibly eliminated, such as non-injury car crashes, burglaries, fraud and forgery incidents. Response times would increase, and elements like those listed below that were instituted through the earnings tax could be cut. A Northland patrol division station also could be eliminated.

The elements listed below have done a tremendous amount of good in our city. They have changed the lives of young people, found and stopped people who committed violent crimes, served the growing northern part of our city, significantly reduced illegal narcotics and the violence that goes with them, protected children from harm and brought justice for victims and their loved ones. If the earnings tax was eliminated, however, KCPD would have to devote nearly all of its resources to responding to 911 calls for service. We could not afford to staff these and other specialized units.

Here are the services and elements KCPD has added using earnings tax funds in the last 40-plus years:

D.A.R.E./G.R.E.A.T. Unit - The five officers in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education and Gang Resistance Education And Training unit reach approximately 3,000 Kansas City youth in 44 schools every year. Both programs are taught to children in grades 4 through 8, depending on the availability of the school’s classroom time. (One of the five officers is funded through the Jackson County COMBAT Tax.)

Police Athletic League – Their mission is to offer youth the opportunity to interact with police officers in a positive setting while participating in cultural, mentoring and sports programs with the main emphasis being placed on academics. The PAL program serves as a constructive alternative to anti-social behavior and boredom during their development years into adulthood. I’ve discussed some of the amazing work PAL does on this blog, and it’s become a national model. PAL is supported by donations, but the officers are paid through earnings tax funds.

Community Interaction Officers – These officers are the single point of contact for community members or groups to access a variety of not only police services, but community contacts and resources, as well. Each area of the city has an assigned representative (one at each of the six patrol divisions). These officers have contacts and relationships with community, cultural, church and professional organizations and strive to serve as a conduit to facilitate each working together for the benefit of the community they represent.

School Resource Officers – Two officers each are assigned to three high schools in the Kansas City Missouri School District: Northeast, Central Academy of Excellence and Southwest. The SRO program places officers in schools in an effort to create and maintain a safe learning environment and also create a positive image through interaction with students, parents, staff and administrators. The officers take a proactive approach with the students to help identify youth at risk, try to intervene with appropriate action plans, build healthy and trusting relationships with the KCMO Police Department and encourage a forward-looking approach to deal with the pressures today's young people face.

• Community Action Network – Six of these officers are assigned at three centers: Westside, Blue Hills and 49/63. They are the definition of “community policing.” They monitor issues within their assigned neighborhoods and work with a wide variety of departmental and City groups to combat the issues. They also do covert operations to follow known criminals in the KC Metro area in an effort to catch them in the act of committing crimes. Our CAN officers have been featured in the New York Times and in national documentaries for their work.

• Shoal Creek Patrol Division –
Serves a 75-square-mile area (for perspective, the whole city of St. Louis is 66 square miles) of northeast Kansas City that is home to about 90,000 residents. Officers respond to 911 calls, engage in proactive policing to prevent crime and work with community members and businesses. A dedicated Property Crimes Section investigates property crimes that take place in the division.

• Helicopter Unit – Officers in the unit fly approximately 1,700 hours per year. They assist in searches for missing and/or endangered adults and children, provide assistance to officers on the ground in locating individuals attempting to elude arrest, and provide information from overhead regarding police pursuits (traffic information to help officers safely pursue and apprehend individuals). They also gather information and intelligence to provide safety during large public gatherings like the World Series Victory Parade and rally, St. Patrick’s Day parade, large disturbances, etc. They provide coverage 15.5 hours each day, and are subject to call out. Kansas City Police also are the only law enforcement agency with a helicopter in the metro area, so KCPD Helicopter officers regularly assist other agencies on both sides of the state line. The helicopters were paid for through a combination of public safety sales tax and grant funds, but the salary of the officers who fly them comes from the Earnings Tax.

• Canine Unit – The Canine Unit does more than just apprehend suspects. They search for articles of contraband or evidence, locate lost individuals and bodies of the deceased, detect narcotics and search for any possible explosives at large-scale events. Ten officers, two sergeants and their 12 canine partners work 20 hours a day, and can be called out at any time.

• Drug Enforcement Unit –
All elements in the unit work in conjunction with federal partners to investigate and prosecute violent offenders. The unit has received numerous accolades from the U.S. Department of Justice for their work. This unit is readily available for 24/7 surveillance when requested. DEU is part of the Narcotics and Vice Division and is composed of the following squads:

- Interdiction – Members stop and investigate large quantities of drugs coming in and out of the city on mass transit, through shipping companies and more. In 2015, Interdiction members seized $46.3 million worth of narcotics and more than $1 million in cash in connection with illicit drugs.

- Career Criminal – Members go after repeat violent criminals involved in crimes like murder, robbery, kidnapping, shootings, and drug and gun trafficking. In the last couple years, members of this squad worked on such high-profile cases as the quintuple homicides in the Woodbridge neighborhood, the highway shooter investigation and Craigslist and convenience store robbery rings.

- Metro Meth – Members respond to, investigate and prevent methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution operations. This squad is the only regional group certified to dismantle clandestine labs in the metropolitan area.

- Administrative – Members work on cases involving prescription drug fraud and abuse and prepare search and arrest warrants for other members of the unit. They also make public presentations to schools, community groups and health centers regarding illegal drug recognition and trends. The squad works in conjunction with the DEA for the nationwide Drug Take Back initiative to safely dispose of all expired and unwanted prescription drugs.

- Undercover – Members investigate mid- to high-level drug activity. The evidence they gather is used in investigations of larger-scale trafficking operations for federal and state prosecutions. Members of this squad investigate heroin overdose deaths for supplier prosecution.

Crimes Against Children Section – These detectives investigated approximately 1,100 cases in 2015 in which an adult victimized a child age 16 or younger. The types of cases this section is responsible for bringing to prosecution include multiple types of child sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, endangerment, parental kidnappings and custody violations. Crimes Against Children also works with the Homicide Unit to co-investigate any incidents of a child dying as a result of abuse, neglect or endangerment.

Cold Case Investigative Elements – Detectives have reviewed thousands of unsolved sexual assault and murder cases in the last decade and have gotten justice for hundreds of victims and their families. The oldest case they solved was a homicide from 1969. While they continue to work cold cases, many of these detectives also now search for missing persons – both adult and juvenile.

Some people might question the need for such specialized units, but we are the largest police department in the largest city in the state of Missouri. These specialized services are needed to address crime that most smaller cities wouldn’t encounter. And our work with youth is critical, too. Many of the youth we work with grow up impoverished, surrounded by drugs and violence. Without some kind of intervention, they can succumb to the negative influences they’re surrounded by and become another generation of people who commit crimes that harm others’ lives and property. I view the work of our Police Athletic League, DARE/GREAT Units and School Resource Officers as a vital crime prevention service.

The services listed above were created with and are supported by the funds generated by the earnings tax. They are not a luxury. They are necessary to effectively police a large and diverse area like our city. But if the tax is eliminated, most – if not all – of these units could be eliminated, too. Remaining staff members would largely be assigned to respond to 911 calls.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

To stop homicides, issues from trash to school attendance need to be addressed

Where the body of a woman in a trash bag was located last week near 49th & Brooklyn.
When a rash of homicides like we’ve experienced lately in Kansas City occurs, many ask what can be done to stop them. They’ll say homicides are rising and out of control. We recorded 109 homicides in 2015, up from a near-record low of 81 in 2014. But 2014 was an anomaly. Since we started keeping consistent annual homicide stats in 1969, Kansas City, Missouri, has only had 10 years in which we experienced fewer than 100 homicides. This is not a new problem. When the crack epidemic struck Kansas City in the late 1980s and early 1990s, things were much worse. There were more than 150 homicides in both 1992 and 1993.

Homicides began rising precipitously when I came onto the department as an officer in 1986. And you know what? We were talking about the exact same issues then. Although murders are significantly lower now than they were in the early 1990s, then, as now, many asked how to stop the bloodshed. To answer that, we have to know why homicides are happening. There is no one reason, and none of the reasons are new.

I spoke at this week’s Board of Police Commissioner’s meeting about one factor that’s really stood out to me lately: the conditions of the environment where these killings take place. Several of our department members did an in-depth analysis of homicides from 2011 to 2014. They responded to almost all of the crime scenes and reviewed case files. On a map, they found that 75 percent of Kansas City’s homicides – as well as 75 percent of all other violent crime – took place in a 34-square-mile area (10.8 percent of the city’s total land mass), bounded by St. John Avenue on the north, 85th Street on the South, Troost Avenue on the west and Topping Avenue on the East. In fact, 90 percent of all violent crimes in Kansas City were associated with this area, meaning victims or suspects of crimes came from there, even if the crime didn’t take place there.

But there are neighborhoods in those 34 square miles that don’t experience high levels of violent crime. What’s different about them from the neighborhoods around them? The analysis found the following:

· Fewer vacant homes

· Residences posted as vacant and unsafe were quickly demolished

· Higher concentrations of churches and places of worship

· Working streetlights

· Well-maintained, occupied properties

· Well-maintained vacant lots

· New or well-maintained sidewalks and roadways

· Minimal trash

· Higher home ownership vs. rental properties

· Extremely active community associations and neighborhood watch programs

In short, there is a sense of pride and ownership in those neighborhoods. People look out for one another. At recent homicide scenes, I’ve seen trash everywhere, overgrown brush, blighted vacant houses, busted sidewalks and more. I mentioned at the Board meeting earlier this week that I’d be willing to forego some of our department’s request for officers to fund the demolition of vacant houses. I say this because I understand the budgeting issues city government faces, and I’d like KCPD to be part of the solution. The City Manager and Council have tough decisions to make, and I want them to know the KCPD is happy to do whatever we can to help make our city safer. In fact, members of KCPD, the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, neighborhood volunteers and others have done several neighborhood clean-ups on the Prospect corridor to combat the types of environmental issues that lead to violent crime. Again, these are some of the same issues we talked about 30 years ago, and they still need addressing.

But there are so many other factors that contribute to violence. Many elected officials lately say the problem is guns. Yes, easy access to guns for people who shouldn’t have them is a problem. Without a doubt, guns have always been the leading cause of violent death in Kansas City. But guns are just a small piece of the issue. In seeking to stop homicides, we can’t focus solely on firearms, nor can we wait for someone else to do something that restricts access to them. We have to be creative and do what we can now. And by “we,” I don’t just mean the police. I mean the whole community.

From before people are born, things can be done that will keep them from heading down a path of violent behavior: proper prenatal care, early childhood education, parental involvement, staying in school until high school graduation. I would love to see the age for compulsory school attendance be increased from 16 to 18. Many of the violent crime suspects and victims we encounter have extensive juvenile criminal histories. Imagine how different those 34 square miles could be if they were filled with high school graduates! The Police Department certainly can’t do all those things. We have programs like the Police Athletic League that have turned kids’ lives around. Thanks to strong mentorship, those kids overcame significant obstacles. But there are so many more kids who need that kind of assistance than there are members of KCPD.

That’s where the community needs to step up: not just those living within those 34 square miles, but every other person in the Kansas City metropolitan area who is concerned about the safety and future of our city. Imagine what it would look like if everyone in this city helped clean up a neighborhood or mentor a young person in the urban core.

There are other issues that lead to violent crime, as well, and we’ve all heard many of them before. Mental illness and substance abuse are big ones. A person who would shoot into a home or vehicle full of people – sometimes children – clearly has a personality disorder and/or unhealthy thought patterns.

I’ve also seen that few of our violent crime suspects and victims tend to think very far outside of their own little world of family and associates. Not only do they miss the opportunities available to them outside of this small group, they miss the bigger picture entirely. They don’t believe in a higher power. They believe man is all there is. For me, that higher power is God, and serving him is my primary purpose. Without that belief in something bigger than them, the people involved in these violent crimes essentially live without purpose. As we have seen, that has incredibly destructive consequences.

I have responded to literally hundreds of homicide scenes in my career, and one of the most frustrating things to me is to hear the grieving family members and friends say, “We knew this was going to happen someday.” Our police department must continue to build relationships so these folks can trust us enough to come to us BEFORE anyone dies. If you fear for the life of someone because of the activity they’re involved in and the people they associate with, please tell us!

I’m willing to try anything that will make our city safer. I have requested money to hire 60 officers (we currently have 79 vacancies) in the upcoming budget. Human capital is important and needed, but it is not the answer to everything. Would ten officers working a single city block have as much impact as demolishing vacant houses, cleaning out trash and brush and improving infrastructure? I don’t know. But I think we all need to keep our minds open to whatever approach could decrease violence in Kansas City, Missouri, and then be willing to roll up our sleeves and help.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Officers are impacted by shootings, too

We’ve seen several news reports lately of what first responders to the San Bernardino shootings experienced when confronting active shooters last week. That’s made me think about those officers and what they must be going through one week later. This was certainly a different circumstance than most officer-involved shootings. No one has questioned that they were justified in shooting the suspects. And the subsequent media coverage that followed has been unusual, as well, exploring what the officers went through. Usually when an officer fatally shoots someone, we hear about the person who died. The media shows the deceased's family and the grief they are suffering. And they are suffering. They have lost a loved one. No matter the circumstances, that loss is painful. But beyond their identifying information and the debate over whether what they did was justified, we don’t usually hear much about the officers – about what they’re going through after such an incident. I realize many would say, “It can’t be that bad. They’re still alive.” Yes, but many of them are forever changed. Their careers and families can be ruined. Some even take their own lives.

All officers involved in fatal shootings on our department must see a psychologist afterward to determine what, if any, assistance they need in the short or long term to cope with the trauma. I spoke with our licensed psychologist recently, Kay White, and she said the impact these incidents have on officers runs the gamut. But one thing she said they all have in common is that not one officer has ever indicated he or she was pleased about or satisfied with having killed another person. As I mentioned in my last post, no officer wants to take the life of another human being. But sometimes, we must. Below is a video we released of an officer-involved shooting six years ago in a South Kansas City park. You’ll see that it’s from two different angles. The officers saw the man strike a vehicle and flee. He drove off-road, and this is what happened (warning - the linked video contains disturbing images):

Ms. White told me the impact a fatal shooting has on an officer depends on several factors, but large among them are community support and media portrayals. If the public tends to stand behind the officer, that officer tends to suffer less psychologically. But Ms. White said she’s seeing more and more officers who are worried about the litigation involved with protecting themselves and/or others, and what impact possible litigation could have on their family, the department and the community.

Even for officers against whom there has been no public outcry, being forced to shoot someone can be incredibly traumatic. One of our officers was brave enough to tell his story publicly, so others would know they were not alone. This officer was one of three who responded to a man calling 911 last year who said he “had a psychotic urge to kill people.” Officers did everything they could to diffuse the situation, but when the man came out of his house and pointed a gun at one of them, they had to protect themselves, and all of them fired. The suspect died. A subsequent search of the man’s house revealed five loaded long-guns with large amounts of ammunition on the kitchen table and a note indicating the man intended to have a protracted gun battle with police officers. Prosecutors cleared all the officers of any violations of law. Still, one of them couldn’t sleep. He replayed the incident over and over in his mind. He stopped leaving his house. His wife and children didn’t know what to do to help him. He is now receiving the treatment he needs and has played a significant role in implementing mental wellness initiatives on our department.

Indeed, our psychologist said one of the primary physical symptoms she sees among officers involved in shootings is the inability to sleep. They have bad dreams. They can’t stop thinking about and replaying the situation. Adrenaline is pumping in them all the time, so they can never rest. They become socially withdrawn, anxious, irritable and afraid to go to work. They feel like no one understands what they’re going through. They don’t feel like they can tell anyone about their depression because they think it would be unacceptable in a law enforcement environment. I have seen too many of our officers who were medically retired because of mental health issues following a traumatic event. Sometimes that’s not a shooting. Sometimes it’s working the case of a murdered child or something equally horrific. Our department is working to ensure these officers are taken care of and given the time they need to recover emotionally before we send them back out on the streets. 

And it’s not just the officers who are impacted. Their families suffer, too. Ms. White said many family members will look at the officer differently after the event, or want the officer to quit his or her job because it’s too dangerous. Others want to “fix” the officer so he or she is like the loved one they knew before.

Pressure on family members even affects loved ones of officers NOT involved in shootings. After the officer-involved shooting in Ferguson, Mo., last year, the teenage daughter of one of our officers wrote a private message to our department’s Facebook page saying she was being bullied at school because her father was a police officer. She said she knew the danger he put himself in daily, even to protect people like the bullies, and she just wanted us to know she was very proud of him. And the family members of one of our sergeants who just happens to be named Darrin Wilson (the same name as the officer in the Ferguson shooting, but spelled differently) received death threats. (KCPD’s Sgt. Darrin Wilson, for the record, just won a Gold Award for Valor from the Metro Chiefs and Sheriffs Association for working with another officer – both of whom were off duty at the time – to stop a man who robbed a bank in a downtown office tower in January, planted a live bomb in the bank and then carjacked several people. That man pleaded guilty to federal charges of bank robbery and carjacking on Nov. 19 and is awaiting sentencing.) 

As you can see, the effects on officers from officer-involved shootings are widespread and varied. For many, that split-second decision in which they did what they were trained to do to protect themselves and others is life-changing. They may not have lost their lives, but some will never be the same.

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