Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Two-year-old data: don't panic about "Black Homicide Victimization in the United States" report

A report released today by the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., is causing undue waves by stating Missouri leads the nation in black homicide victims. The report was compiled using 2009 homicide data from law enforcement agencies. It does not include any reference to homicides that occurred in 2010 or 2011. This report is based on old numbers, and while we can’t discount it, we need to focus on moving forward.

Dredging up old data does nothing to help improve the situation. We can sit around and bemoan the violence and complain about inequality, or we can do something to fix it. Rest assured I am concerned about the victimization of any person regardless of race, age, sex or ethnicity. That’s why we’re adjusting our policing strategies: focusing on where crime happens most and who is most likely to commit it.

One homicide is one homicide too many. We shouldn’t be satisfied as a community even if our homicide rate dropped by 50 percent. It would still have an impact on victims’ families, neighborhoods, economic development and so much more.

The numbers stated in the Violence Policy Center’s report don’t paint an accurate picture about black homicides. In addition to using 2-year-old data, it pulls its numbers from local-level law enforcement agencies, not from FBI Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data. (UCR data is the nationwide law enforcement standard.) Many of these agencies count homicides differently than Kansas City Police do. They don’t include homicides that have been ruled as self defense or accidental. Kansas City does. We count every time one person dies at the hand of another, even officer-involved shootings. Kansas City had 114 homicides in 2011, eight of which were ruled self defense and four of which were ruled accidental. So take those out, and it looks like Kansas City had just 102 homicides in 2011, and significantly fewer black victims. But we want to be transparent with our numbers.

Here are the facts about black homicides in Kansas City, including 2010 and 2011 data, which the report did not analyze:

• In 2009, there were 110 homicides, 81 of which were black victims (73.6%)
• In 2010, there were 106 homicides, 79 of which were black victims (74.5%)
• In 2011, there were 114 homicides, 88 of which were black victims (77.2%)
• So far in 2012, there have been 7 homicides, 5 of which were black victims (71.4%)

Our numbers also show that not only are most homicide victims in Kansas City black, so are the suspects. The vast majority of homicides are intra-racial. A national study that examined homicides from 1976 to 2005 found that 94 percent of black victims were killed by black suspects. In 2011, 71 percent of known homicide suspects in Kansas City were black.

It is a disservice to the residents of Kansas City to dwell on the 2-year-old data covered in the Violence Policy Center’s report. A number of factors contribute to the black homicide rate – racial and socioeconomic inequality, narcotics and less-than-adequate conflict resolution skills – and a number of things will be necessary to change it. Many of those are things that cannot be repaired by police. It is imperative on the entire community to contribute to solutions.

No matter what race you are, Kansas City is a safe place if you don’t exhibit high-risk behaviors by being involved in or associating with those who are involved in violent crime and narcotics distribution. Let’s continue looking forward to make our city even safer.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Memorial service, bench honor officer killed in 1924

The Kansas City Police Department has a long, and at times, tragic history. The Trail of Heroes was created to remember and honor those who have given their lives in the service of this city. Sometimes it's heartening when someone takes the time and resources to honor someone who many have forgotten about. That was the case this past New Year's Day. Check out the story about it in our January Informant newsletter.

Officer Dennis Coates read the bench dedication letter to Sgt. Dennis Whalen’s great-nieces MaryBeth Daigneaux and Margaret Ann Frick.

A bench on the Trail of Heroes – funded by an anonymous donor – was dedicated to an officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty 88 years ago this past New Year’s Day.

Sergeant Dennis Whalen was shot on New Year’s Eve 1923 and died in the hospital on New Year’s Day 1924 after attempting to arrest suspects in the death of another officer killed in 1913.

According to the Police Memorial web site, it all started with two suspects wanted for killing KCPD Patrolman Homer Riggle on Feb. 20, 1913. Patrolman Riggle was shot and killed by two robbery suspects who overpowered him during an arrest and killed him with his own weapon. Three months later on April 30, 1913, Officer Andrew Lynch was in a pharmacy at 9th street and Benton Boulevard when he recognized the suspects. The two men, John Tatman and Samuel Sherman, fled. Officer Lynch chased them and a running gun battle broke out. Lynch was shot five times. He died five days later of his wounds. He had been on the department just six years and was 38 years old. That same day in April 1913, Sergeant Dennis Whalen was responsible for capturing the two men who killed Officer Andrew Lynch and Patrolman Homer Riggle.

Eleven years later, Sgt. Whalen was shot at age 57 by a bandit at 1549 East 18th street and died New Year’s Day 1924. Some sources say the man who killed him was an additional suspect wanted in the murders of Patrolman Riggle and Officer Lynch.

Sergeant Dennis Whalen joined the police department in 1889. Throughout his 34-year career, he served as a beat patrolman, a special guard, and an executive officer.

It is known, after Sgt. Whalen’s death, his wife Anna Whalen gathered all the gold and silver jewelry Dennis had given her over the years and had it melted into a chalice in honor of him. Years later, that same chalice was found at St. Therese Little Flower Parish at 58th and Euclid with an engraving on the bottom saying, “In loving memory of Dennis Whalen, by his wife Anna Whalen.”

A Catholic Mass and Memorial was held for Sgt. Dennis Whalen and to honor those who put their lives in danger for others on January 1, 2012 at St. Therese Little Flower Parish. Sgt. Whalen and Ann’s great- nieces, sisters MaryBeth Daigneaux and Margaret Ann Frick, said they were honored to receive the letter that Officer Dennis Coates read, stating that a bench from the Kansas City Missouri Police Department’s Trail of Heroes was anonymously dedicated in his name.

Mike Arndt, Operations Manager, said, “Sgt. Whalen’s bench will be the 11th bench honoring those who have died in the line of duty and the 21st bench overall.”

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tactical Response Teams are centralizing

Today, I informed KCPD employees that our three Tactical Response Teams (you may know them as SWAT teams) will consolidate into one Tactical Response Division effective this Sunday, Jan. 22. Presently, Tactical Teams 1, 2 and 3 are stationed at the Central, Metro and East patrol divisions, respectively. Consolidating them gives them one command structure and will allow for increased efficiency for the deployment of tactical resources. All 45 officers on Tactical squads will now report to one major who has tactical experience. This major, Philip Lawler, was reassigned from another unit.

This centralization will allow us to focus our efforts in different parts of the city based on need and not just geography. And the South, Shoal Creek and North patrol divisions will now have more access to tactical resources than they ever did before. Tactical officers can be moved from area to area without having to get permission from other commanders.

The majority of Tactical officers we’ve heard from are in favor of this new structure. It gives them more freedom to go where they’re needed and cut through red tape. We’re still working out some logistics, such as where the Tactical Operations Division will operate from.

The Street Crimes Unit Tactical Team will not be part of the centralization. It will continue to work with others in the Narcotics and Vice Division to target drug-related crimes throughout the city.

Centralizing the Tactical Response Teams is just one way we’re doing more with less. I am cognizant of our current budget situation and that we must do the best we can with the tax dollars we’ve been given. I will continue to look at ways to increase efficiencies without adding additional staff. You’ll likely see more re-assigning of positions to elements where staffing is most needed.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Staff inspection commanders are street-level coaches

This story from our monthly Informant newsletter explains the staff inspection commander positions I implemented when I became chief. These majors help me know what's happening on the street, both with officers and with major crimes and crime trends. Check out the story below:

Major Melvin Harvey and Officer Charles Chambers tried to dispurse suspected drug activity in a park.

The title might be intimidating, but the department’s two new staff inspection commanders aren’t out to check whether officers are polishing their shoes.

“They’re street coaches and counselors,” Chief Darryl Forté called them.

Forté assigned majors Anthony Ell and Melvin Harvey to the new staff inspection positions when he was named chief in October 2011. Since that time, the majors have been out trying to assist officers on the ground and facilitate community relationships.

“They are two well-respected, high-ranking commanders who are basically the eyes and ears of the command staff,” Forté said. “They’re not to be the watch dogs of the police department. They’re the first phase of organized community policing. They can set the tone for others as leaders.”

Majors Ell and Harvey acknowledged not many department members understand what their position entails.

“At the early onset, people thought I’d be doing a lot of inspecting,” Major Ell told the Board of Police Commissioners. “I think they’ve gotten more comfortable seeing what I do.”

Major Harvey concurred.

“The unknown scares them,” he said. “I’m more of a support role. And I get out and talk to the community and see what their concerns are.”

Major Harvey said he spends two to three hours every day checking in with community members. They often call him with concerns, too, often about their perception of how police handled a situation.

“I get the officer’s side of the story, and see if we can come to an understanding about why the officer is doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Harvey said.

Chief Forté said members of the community are largely comfortable coming to Ell and Harvey with their concerns.

“Between the two of them, they know everyone in the city,” Forté said.

Harvey said he’s also there to assist officers however they might need it, especially if they need other elements to respond and don’t have time to send their request through the chain of command.

“I can get them through the red tape,” Harvey said.

Major Ell did just that when a barber was killed during a robbery on Nov. 16, 2011. A witness saw someone flee from the scene into a nearby apartment building. Officers on scene needed help securing the building so they could track down the possible suspect, so Major Ell got a tactical squad there quickly. Two suspects were apprehended and charged two days later.

Ell said his duties vary greatly.

“On certain days, I may roll up on an accident, and you may see me conducting traffic on 19th and Broadway while officers work the accident,” Ell said.

Harvey said he also does pro-active work, like helping a grocery store owner at 39th and Kensington get rid of people who are dealing drugs behind his store.

But both Ell and Harvey said they respond to major incident calls, speaking with officers on scene. Harvey said he sometimes uses this opportunity to coach officers and advise them. He said he’s not out to get anyone and hasn’t written up a single officer.

Chief Forté said staff inspection commanders were around when he first joined the department, and he doesn’t want the position to be the same as it was then.

“The perception was they were out to capture you doing something wrong, but this isn’t like that,” he said. “We want them to develop relationships with the rank and file. They’re out there every day, making calls with them and talking to residents and businesses.”

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Police bust Northland businesses selling synthetic drugs


Kansas City Police and other law enforcement agencies busted two Northland businesses today for selling synthetic narcotics.

Officers with the Synthetic Drug Task Force served search warrants at Discount Smokes at 2518 NE Vivion Road and the Shell Station at Vivion and Antioch roads. They arrested store employees and recovered synthetic drugs such as “plant food,” “syn,” “K2,” and “bath salts.”

Police recovered approximately 1,100 grams of suspected synthetic drugs, several thousand dollars worth of drug paraphernalia and a loaded firearm. Four people were arrested and face multiple charges for the sale of controlled substances.

“These stores and their management had been warned multiple times,” KCPD Captain Chelly Pfeifer said. “They were presented with letters from the Clay County prosecutor outlining that the substances were illegal.”

Kansas City Police have been investigating the stores targeted in today’s search warrants for as long as 10 months.

Missouri legislators banned synthetic narcotics in August 2010. The drugs have been found to be chemically similar to marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and other illegal substances. They cause significant physical harm and psychosis that can lead to injury or suicide.

The multi-jurisdictional Synthetic Drug Task Force convened in November 2011 to combat the continuing sales of illegal synthetic drugs. The Task Force includes the Kansas City, Gladstone and North Kansas City police departments; Platte and Clay County sheriff’s departments; the Clay County Prosecutor’s Office; and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Captain Chelly Pfeifer is president of the Northland Coalition – an organization dedicated to creating healthy and drug-free communities. The Coalition heard from a woman whose son nearly died from using synthetic drugs and still suffers significant physical problems. Talking to teenagers involved in the Northland Coalition, she learned many knew other teens who used the drugs and knew where to get them.

“I said, ‘We have to do something,’” she said. “… Our kids are getting involved in this stuff. They have the notion if it’s sold in a gas station, it’s OK. It’s ‘herbal.’ But it has devastating effects.”

Sergeant Brad Dumit of KCPD’s Vice Section said he wanted today’s actions against the stores selling the synthetic drugs to convey it will not be tolerated.

“We want to send the message that selling these things is illegal,” he said. “It’s illegal to possess it, distribute it and sell it.”

Capt. Pfeifer said the efforts of the Synthetic Drug Task Force will be ongoing.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Commanders on the streets

The new year has brought a new requirement for command staff on the police department. I have asked all commanders who are not assigned to patrol operations in the field to spend time out on the streets. All commanders (captains, majors, deputy chiefs and me) must now complete one evening shift and one over-night shift in patrol every six months. I want the command staff to remain familiar with activities out in the field and with street-level officers. Since I was named chief, I also have required a deputy chief to respond to every homicide scene. I have been to all but two.

The members of the Kansas City Police Department need to be in touch with the community we serve, and that applies to the highest-ranking people in our organization. Staying behind a desk all the time doesn’t allow for the citizen engagement that is necessary to build trust and relationships.

Additionally, commanders need to know the issues that are facing our city and our officers. They need to be aware of trends in crime and violence. They need to know if officers are experiencing issues that need addressing – anything from problems with computers in their cars to nuisance properties to morale.

So expect to see a little more brass on the streets in 2012.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Neighborhood Prosecution Teams

I’ve been writing about our hot spot policing practices for a while now, and it’s time I thank one of our big partners in it: The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office Neighborhood Prosecution Project. Two prosecution teams are in place now – one in the area of 27th and Prospect and one along Independence Avenue.

The teams are composed of at least two assistant prosecutors and an investigator. They’re doing what I’ve also encouraged KCPD officers to do: get to know the residents and business people of the neighborhoods where they work. The Neighborhood Prosecution Teams have gone door to door in the areas they’re serving passing out fliers about what they’re doing and making contacts. They’re also visiting businesses, neighborhood associations and business associations. They’re letting the community know they’re available and getting to know the areas and people that are problematic.

We’ve also appreciated how closely they’ve worked with KCPD. In fact, some of the areas they serve overlap with parts of our hot spots. They keep in close contact with police assigned to those sectors. They’re prosecuting cases that might otherwise fall through the cracks at the state and municipal level. They’re also helping us deal with nuisance businesses and properties that are havens of criminal activity. A good example of this was the closing of the Green Duck Club in early November. The neighborhood prosecutors worked closely with police to build a case against the club, which is where a homicide and other violence took place in 2011 and where there were dozens of police calls for service and complaints of drug activity.

I really appreciate the resources Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has devoted to the Neighborhood Prosecution Project. These assistant prosecutors are taking on these cases in addition to their regular workload, but they realize how important it is to stop crime where it happens most. They also realize that police need the support of their partners in the criminal justice system and the members of the community to make Kansas City safer.

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