Thursday, March 28, 2013

As snow melts, hard work of Building Operations staff comes to forefront

The last of the snow from the city’s latest storm is melting today, and it reminds me to point out the hard work of those who were behind the scenes ensuring the work of police could continue during each of these weather events.

Our Buildings Operations personnel quietly maintain our facilities so employees can do their jobs of public safety. It’s not an easy task. Some of our buildings – like Headquarters, built in 1938 – are old and have continuous problems (thanks to the public safety sales tax, we are working to address these issues, but it will take time). The Building Operations staff members work so smoothly we often don’t think about all they do. In the three major snow events in the last month and a half, however, the importance of their work became very evident.

Unlike businesses and other government operations, the police department can’t shut down during inclement weather. In fact, that’s often when officers are needed most – helping stranded motorists and those involved in car crashes. But they would never be able to assist the public if they were snowed in at police stations. And they couldn’t have left the stations without all our Building Operations personnel did.

During each of our three big snow events, Building Ops crews logged about 160 man-hours of snow removal duty at our patrol division stations, Headquarters, Fleet Operations Unit, Helicopter Section and other critical facilities. That’s 480 total hours dealing with the snow. During each event, crews plowed; spread about 20 tons of salt; and two tons of ice melt. Personnel from Patrol, Fleet and Helicopter also came out to help. Their primary goal was to keep the patrol stations operational, then plow and salt all secondary lots.

As the reminder of their hard work melts away, I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank the members of our Building Operations Unit for all their hard work.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Keeping officer-involved shootings at a minimum

Our mission at the Kansas City Missouri Police Department is, “To protect and serve with professionalism, honor and integrity.” To me, part of that means doing everything we can to protect human life. Officers here do that every day, from stopping drunk drivers who could kill someone on a roadway to helping domestic violence victims get away from their abusers.

But once in a while, officers are forced to take a life or injure someone to protect themselves or others. Ask any officer who has been involved in such a situation, and he or she likely will count it as the worst moment of their career. Kansas City officers have been involved in one such shooting already this year when on Jan. 15, a man who eluded police in Independence stopped for Kansas City police on I-435 near Front Street. He got out of his vehicle and started shooting at officers. They returned fire, killing him. A grand jury ruled the officers committed no crimes.

One of my goals as Chief of Police is to keep officer-involved shootings as low as possible. That’s why I recently asked investigators to prepare a report outlining every officer-involved shooting at KCPD for the last 10 years to see whether there were any patterns we should be on the lookout for. The shootings in this report included those that resulted in fatalities, those that didn’t, and those in which no one even was hit. I was relieved to see the numbers are relatively low, and there is no discernible pattern. Some of the findings:

From 2002 to 2012, KCPD had 132 officer-involved shootings. Of those:

• 47 resulted in a suspect fatality.
• Another 47 resulted in a suspect sustaining serious physical injury but surviving.
• 11 resulted in an officer sustaining a physical injury. One had to retire for medical reasons as a result, and two others continue to recuperate.
• Officer-involved shootings were most like to occur during armed subject and shots fired calls.

We also have made a strong effort to avoid officer-involved shooting situations with the mentally ill. One-fourth of our patrol officers are Crisis Intervention Team (CIT)-certified, meaning they have undergone extensive training in how to handle someone who is mentally ill and in crisis. Police are usually the first to respond to such an incident. Sergeants also are now required to respond to all CIT calls.

We have an array of less-than-lethal options that our officers use to protect themselves and others, everything from Tasers to beanbag shotguns. They have shown great discretion over the years in knowing when to use these to bring about the best resolution for everyone involved.

An officer usually has only seconds to make life or death decisions. An article in our recent Informant newsletter discusses how we educate grand juries about the situations in which officers find themselves. Police face the heavy burden every day of knowing they might have to make such a choice, and I appreciate the seriousness and professionalism with which KCPD members take that responsibility.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Recognizing the behind-the-scenes work that helped stop a serial killer

Kansas City Police recently arrested a man who killed two women and was intent on killing more. Investigators allege that Derek Richardson, 27, was a serial killer in the making. He has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abandonment of a corpse. He already was targeting other potential victims. You can read more about the case in this Kansas City Star article.

You might have seen the Feb. 8 press conference in which we asked for tips in these cases on television, or the one announcing we had identified and arrested the suspect. You probably saw several of the detectives at those events. They did amazing work on this case. But what you did not see were the people who also worked diligently behind the scene to make the arrest happen.

I presented a Chief’s Coin today to one of those people: Jennifer Howard. She is the DNA Technical Leader at our Crime Lab and was instrumental in solving this case. For two months, she made this case a priority. She and other lab staff tested DNA samples as quickly as possible and came in at all kinds of odd hours to do so.

Jennifer discovered that DNA recovered from the second crime scene matched the first, solidly linking the two cases to the same killer. With this discovery, a task force of detectives from our department and Kearney, Mo., (the first victim’s body was dumped in rural Kearney) went to work. As they developed suspects, Jennifer tested to see whether their DNA matched the profile of that recovered at the crime scenes. Detectives developed about 50 suspects, and Jennifer and her team tested 37 DNA samples (she found the others already in CODIS – the national criminal justice DNA database). She worked quickly, as detectives told her the killer could strike again.

A few days after the Feb. 8 press conference, a tip came in leading detectives to Richardson. Jennifer confirmed his DNA sample was a match to the crime scenes.

Sergeant Doug Niemeier, who led the investigative task force, said Jennifer was the go-to person for DNA work. If they got a sample at 10 p.m., she would come in at 10 p.m. and go to work testing it. And that promptness was important.

“If we didn’t find him, we knew he’d do it again,” Niemeier said.

This above-and-beyond work and attitude is why I was pleased to present Jennifer with the Chief’s Coin today as a special token of appreciation.

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