Friday, April 16, 2010

From Philadelphia to Kansas City, police cope with "flash mob"-type gatherings

If you read this New York Times article, you’ll see something that took place a few weeks ago in Philadelphia that sounds very much like what happened on the Country Club Plaza here last weekend. Large groups of kids converged on venerable areas of the city through texting and social media and turned into an unruly mob that damaged property, intimidated shoppers and diners and broke out into numerous fights. The same issues also came up in Philly that have here – finding something else for the kids to do, racial tension and parental responsibility.

Coincidentally, the annual Police Executive Research Forum's Annual Meeting is taking place in Philadelphia right now, and the leader of KCPD’s Patrol Bureau – Deputy Chief Cy Ritter – is there. He told me about a town hall meeting at the conference this morning in which Philadelphia Police talked about the “flash mob” problems they’re having and commended Kansas City Police for how quickly we’re taking action here.

Philadelphia’s Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel said he found this report of last weekend’s Plaza incident that I posted on my blog. Several police leaders at the conference said they were surprised I posted such a report for everyone to see, but transparency is one of our critical values, and I think it was important to objectively document the events of that night and the police response to them. Deputy Chief Ritter then presented a bit more about how our department handled the situation and what we plan to do in the future. Deputy Commissioner Bethel praised how quickly KCPD responded to and documented the event. He added that the only thing he would do differently would be to document the events on video, which Philadelphia is now doing.

Fortunately, that was already in our plans for the Plaza this weekend. Much like we do at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, big college basketball tournaments and other events with lots of people, we’re going to set up cameras on the Plaza this weekend and monitor them from a remote location to better track trouble spots and deploy officers to those areas. But if the crowds decide to skip the Plaza this weekend and congregate elsewhere in the city to cause disorder, we’ll move there, too. Our mobile response is ready.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey also made another good point at this morning’s town hall meeting: It is not the job of police to find something for teens do for entertainment. He said that’s up to the community. The job of police is pretty well encapsulated in our department’s mission statement: “… To protect life and property while reducing fear and disorder.” If a lot of juveniles gather in the city somewhere this weekend and are civil and law-abiding, police intervention won’t be necessary. But we’re ready in the event that’s not the case.

It was heartening to hear the leaders of the nation’s fourth-largest police department praising how we handled things and saying KCPD was “ahead of the curve” in front of nearly 300 other law enforcement leaders from around the U.S., Canada and Europe. But what matters most is how safe people here in Kansas City feel, and they can take comfort knowing that their police department is innovatively and effectively addressing any issue that may compromise that safety.

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