Friday, September 20, 2013

Commanders get called out

When an emergency happens in Kansas City, I want everyone on this department from the top down to be able to respond. That’s why we conducted a commander call-out earlier this week, the second since I took the office of Chief of Police.

The goal was to have all commanders (deputy chiefs, majors and captains) respond to and work through a critical incident exercise. I want all commanders to be more involved in large emergency events, and I want them to exercise their critical thinking in a situation they don’t face on a regular basis. It’s one of the reasons I require all commanders to do regular ride-alongs with patrol officers. I want them to stay in touch with street-level policing.

They did not know this week’s call-out was coming. The only people who knew were the five department members who created and administrated the exercise and me.

At 1:15 p.m. Monday, I ordered the Communications Unit (this was a test for them, as well) to notify all commanders to report to the Police Academy immediately, no matter where they were or what they were doing. Once there, they were randomly divided into groups and presented with the critical incident scenario: A man wearing an explosive vest walks into Police Headquarters during the Republican National Convention (which Kansas City is hoping to host in 2016) and demands the convention be stopped. We let them take the scenario from there. There weren’t necessarily any right answers. I wanted to ensure a few very basic points were covered – such as activating the Emergency Operations Center and calling an Operation 100 at Headquarters.

Everyone did an excellent job. I was impressed with their teamwork. No one pulled rank, and everyone listened to each other’s ideas. That cooperation is necessary because a critical incident of this scale would certainly be handled by a group of commanders, not just one. Working through this kind of scenario allowed them to activate and utilize all the resources the department has available, such as manpower, specialty units, federal partners, neighboring law enforcement agencies and other city departments like Emergency Management and Fire.

I want us to be responsive in a critical incident, not reactive. In the police world, those are two different things. Responding to an emergency means coming in with a rehearsed plan of action. It means police know what needs to be done and who needs to do it, and they put their plan into action as soon as possible. Reacting to an emergency means police are unprepared and chaos reigns. A critical incident is not the time to work out details. Exercises like this week’s ensure we are responsive.

Right after I became chief, we conducted a much less-involved exercise in which I ordered the Communications Unit to contact all commanders and tell them to come to a location to see how quickly they responded and how they used their take-home vehicles. That covered response, but I wanted this to engage their critical thinking skills.

This will not be the last time such a surprise exercise is conducted. Why? Because someday it might not be an exercise. It might be the real thing. If it is, I want a department of men and women who are prepared, regardless of their assignment. Future exercises will include regional, state and federal partners.

Send comments to 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Workplace bullying needs to be addressed

Heavy on my heart this morning is the subject of bullying – not cyber bullying, bullying at school or even sibling bullying – but workplace bullying. Bullying is not solely germane to those more commonly discussed areas. It frequently occurs in the workplace. 

I began writing this blog at 2:39 this morning. For some unknown reason, the topic was weighing on me with a sense of restlessness that I haven't felt in months. As I tried to discount the heaviness on my heart and to rationalize the restlessness as excitement for being on a few days of vacation, I realized I had to share the realities and perception of workplace bullying, especially in a law enforcement environment.

To the best of my knowledge, this topic has not been broached by any police department, and certainly not by the Kansas City Missouri Police Department.  Realizing that it might not resonate well for some, I'll risk stirring the pot because this is a serious issue. But it would be a risk well worth the effort if it positively impacts the manner in which people are treated. Some might ask, "Why shine the light on the problem?" Because we must speak for those who can't speak for themselves!

Let me be clear, the issue within the KCPD is not systemic or wide-spread. Many of the bullies are no longer associated with the police department. The Kansas City Police Department is composed of courteous, dedicated and servant-minded individuals who have proven their commitment to our city.

At least on a weekly basis, I stress to my executive-level command staff the importance of ensuring all members of the department be respectful, courteous and fair, and that they immediately intervene if anyone is behaving unprofessionally. They've been asked to share my request and concerns with those they lead. They've been told if they see something, say something, and that no one should suffer in silence. Recently, executive level staff was provided a copy of "The Bully at Work," by Gary Namie, PhD, & Ruth Namie, PhD. This is one of many steps we'll take toward better identifying, addressing and eventually alleviating such an emotionally damaging practice.

In May of this year, the department's lead attorney from the Office of General Counsel began gathering information regarding internal suits, claims and EEOC charges of discrimination. The information will be reviewed to determine if policy and/or patterns of practices need to be revised.

As I reflect on my 28-year career with this great organization, I can't help but reflect on the many real incidents of bullying. Oftentimes, the bullies were in higher ranks or positions than those who were being bullied. I've witnessed and have been the victim of bullying at KCPD.  I reported the bullying, and in most cases it was discounted as: "He does that to everyone," "You need thicker skin," or "Don't make any noise about that." As I progressed through the ranks of the department, I found better ways to confront bullies.

Throughout the years, many others have communicated their experiences, often hearing identical trite expressions from those who had the authority to intervene but didn’t. There have been incidents in which individuals were cursed out and even threatened, but no actions were taken against the bully. Transfers requests have been lost and denied without explanation. I've witnessed above-average yearly evaluations change to an employee who suddenly can't do anything right in the eyes of his immediate supervisor/commander. Most alarming, oftentimes no one intervened on behalf of the one being bullied. In some cases the bullies garnered the support of others, resulting in group bullying. The result in several cases was civil action being filed with monetary compensation being awarded to the bullied employee.

Although bullying can occur anywhere at any time, it's imperative to address bullying at its onset in a work environment. We must set the tone of non-tolerance, and most importantly, prevent the long-term emotional toll on those who are being bullied.

I encourage anyone who's being bullied to report the bullying to any supervisor or commander so the allegations can be properly investigated.

While not as prevalent as in my early years on the department, bullying still rears its destructive head far too often. I'll continue to promote employees who don't subscribe to the philosophy of going along to get along, but those who are willing to intervene to cease destructive practices, regardless of the personal consequences. I decided to express my feelings about this topic so others, within the department as well as those outside the department, might not stand by silently while others are tormented by unbridled bullies. I and many others have intervened to stop bullying over the years, and rest assured we'll continue to do so. My desire is that we create, nurture and maintain a bully-free environment and a culture that's comfortable sharing about any form of mistreatment.

I respectfully share this topic because it's important that all employees, as well as other segments of the community, understand what's being done to alleviate bullying within the KCPD. 

Send comments to  

Friday, September 6, 2013

Reducing gun violence: Local/federal partnerships make a difference

I authored the below letter with St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and Chuck Wexler, director of the Police Executive Research Forum. It appears today as an "As We See It" column in the Kansas City Star.

The Missouri legislature is receiving national attention for passing a law that would attempt to nullify all federal gun laws within the state.  The legislation was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon, but the legislature may attempt to override that veto.

Most legal experts agree that the legislation is unconstitutional. The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not allow state legislatures to nullify federal laws.

As police officials we are concerned about this legislation because it would make it a state crime for our federal partners at the FBI, ATF, and other agencies to do their job of enforcing federal gun laws in Missouri. The prospect of Missouri officials trying to arrest federal agents is unimaginable, but that is what House Bill 436 would provide.

We find the legislation offensive for the disrespect it shows to federal law enforcement agents. Our partnerships with federal officials are a key part of our strategies for reducing gun violence. Federal criminal sentences for gun violence are usually more certain than those provided under state law.  And federal agencies provide important resources in personnel, equipment, and intelligence about violent criminals.
The respect for federal agencies among local police, particularly with respect to reducing gun violence, is found nationwide.  The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a policing research organization, in 2009 conducted a survey of all local law enforcement agencies serving cities of 100,000 or more regarding their gun violence strategies.
PERF asked the local police to “rate” dozens of gun violence reduction strategies, such as tracing guns found at crime scenes, investigating straw purchases of guns on behalf of convicted felons, deploying gunshot detection technology, targeting violent gangs, removing guns from the scene of domestic violence calls, and providing gun safety education in schools. 
The strategies that involve working with federal law enforcement agencies and federal prosecutors received high approval ratings. In fact, the Number 1 strategy that police chiefs consider most effective in preventing gun violence is submitting cases to the U.S. Attorney for prosecution.  Police chiefs wish that federal prosecutors could handle more gun violence cases resulting from partnerships between local police and federal agents.
A large-scale operation of this kind made headlines in St. Louis in July.  More than 200 people were arrested and 265 firearms were seized in the operation, which involved more than 80 ATF personnel working with St. Louis police and others.
The arrestees had a total of more than 2,300 prior arrests – and yet these people were still on the streets of St. Louis and East St. Louis, armed and dangerous. Because of this joint operation, the arrestees are now facing federal charges with significant penalties. This will make our neighborhoods safer.
Similar results were obtained in the Kansas City area in May, when an operation by ATF and Kansas City Police produced 61 arrests and seizure of 222 firearms. Some of the seized guns had been used in multiple violent crimes, including unsolved homicide investigations. This operation targeted armed career criminals – violent felons who carry guns.
Local police chiefs are grateful for the help we receive from ATF, the FBI, and other federal agencies.  And yet if House Bill 436 were allowed to take effect, instead of thanking federal agents for helping us take violent offenders off the street, our duty would be to arrest the federal agents.   
The outcome of this absurd legislation is that our communities will be less safe if criminals are not prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  Other states recognize the value of partnerships between local police and federal agencies.  If Missouri shuts down these partnerships because of a decision made by legislators, in effect we will be encouraging criminals to come to Missouri.
We urge our legislators to sustain the Governor’s veto of House Bill 436 and allow Missouri’s law enforcement agencies to work with federal agencies. The citizens of Kansas City and St. Louis will be better off for it.

Send comments to 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Department's current form of governance is best

We already are under local control, we’re shielded from political corruption, we use taxpayer dollars in the most efficient way possible, and we are responsive to the community.

I have been Chief of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department since October 2011. I worked here for 26 years before that in a variety of positions and have lived in this city my whole life. Like anyone, I brought my experiences and opinions into each new assignment I’ve had on the police department. However, I always made it a point to keep my mind open in each position and learn as much as I could. I took that same attitude with me into the role of Chief. I have learned a great deal and appreciate all who have taught me.
I’ve tried to keep an open mind on one topic in particular: city control of the police department. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. But the more I learn, the more I come to the realization that the current system of police department governance is the best one. The Mayor has established a commission whose stated mission is to determine what form of governance would be best for the police department. I have remained neutral about the topic as I gathered and analyzed facts, but given what I’ve learned and my extensive experience, I now think it’s time I voice my opinion. The best way to govern the department is our current system: a Board of Police Commissioners operating under state statute. This model best meets the needs of our community.

The KCPD is uniquely governed, and that is not a bad thing. Aside from a period of “home rule” from 1932 to 1939 (you can read more about city politics and the corruption of the police department during that time in this background paper from the Citizens Association of Kansas City), the Kansas City Police Department is controlled by a Board of Police Commissioners. The Missouri Governor appoints the members of this board, and those members are confirmed by the State Senate. Local representatives typically recommend members of the Board to the governor’s office. Board members must be residents of Kansas City, Mo. State statutes – written and voted on by elected representatives and senators – provide the rules the police department must follow. The Kansas City Mayor also has a seat on the Board.

Some people have said the KCPD needs to be under “local control.” If the aforementioned process isn’t local control, I don’t know what is. Local residents are recommended by local representatives elected by the people, chosen by an elected governor and confirmed by local state senators, also elected by Kansas City residents. The mayor – also elected by residents – is a commissioner, as well. Everyone who is in control of the police department lives in Kansas City, Mo.

The issue really in question is city control of the police department, not local control.

I urge you to consider the question, “How would not being governed by state statute improve police services?” According to the Citizens Association of Kansas City, which has hosted public forums on everything from city control of the police department to remodeling Kansas City International Airport, “The Board and Department have functioned as intended, scandal-free for 74 years. Governors of both parties have appointed recognized civic leaders. … The Department is highly regarded nationally, in large part because its board of governance is free from political pressures.”

Coming under city control always has brought with it the concerns of re-opening the door to political corruption within the police department. The current system shields our department from such corruption. Wouldn’t anyone want those charged with enforcing laws to be as free from political influence as possible? Police officers always should be free to do what is best for the safety of the city without fear of repercussion from elected officials. Police should be able to devote their resources to the areas of greatest need as determined by data and community input, not where an elected official requests officers to be for personal or political reasons.

My peers in charge of other major city police departments envy the way KCPD operates. Every election time, their organizations go into limbo. The whole direction of their department could change with the whims of new city council members or mayors, and the chiefs themselves could be ousted. We are fortunate in Kansas City to be able to build our policing strategy on data and best practices. We have the flexibility to meet the changing needs of the community, and I am able to freely express my opinion without fear of reprisal. I ask others to express their opinion on this important matter, as well.

Some have said it is unfair for the city to be required to fund the police department and not have a say in how the money is spent. All city departments, from Fire to Public Works, decide how to allocate their own budgets. The police are no exception. The Board of Police Commissioners annually submits a request for funds to the City Manager, and the manager and City Council ultimately hammer out how much money the Police Department receives. We are as responsible to tax-payers with our money as any other public entity. In fact, I challenge anyone to show a place where we are not responsible with our funds. Feel free to review our budget any time on our web site. We get criticized for taking up 46 percent of the city’s general fund budget. That is a significant amount, but consider that the general fund is only 31 percent of the city’s overall budget. And year after year, the Citizen Satisfaction Survey shows residents want public safety to be the city’s top funding priority.

Proponents of city control say it will save money through consolidation. This isn’t true. If the city currently has enough human resources or information technology staff to handle an additional 2,000 employees (the size of the police department), then they have too many people. The same number of total positions will be required to support the combined number of employees. The department also would lose $1 million annually from the State of Missouri’s Legal Defense Fund through city control. The city would have to take on that responsibility. It also would have to shoulder the cost of the services currently provided by the Missouri Attorney General’s office, which defends civil claims filed against the department and our members. It is difficult to place a dollar figure on these services, but the loss would cost the department and city a substantial sum in attorney’s fees and expenses.

We have a great working relationship with city officials and city departments. Our staff is constantly in communication with them, and we work together on a very regular basis.

Some people say city control would make police more accessible and responsive to residents. I would argue that police are more responsive and accessible to residents than any other segment of city government. Our staff has the most direct contact with citizens in the course of their duties. Officers attend innumerable community meetings, and we have seven officers whose specific assignment is to be a liaison between the community and the department. We have an Office of Community Complaints (also composed of Kansas City residents) that is charged with investigating misconduct of department members, as reported by the public. The OCC answers only to the Board of Police Commissioners, not to me or anyone else on the department. Residents also are welcome to make comments at Board meetings. We make our records as open and transparent as possible. We also are internationally recognized for our community engagement through social media.

Another argument for city control is that we are the only police department governed by a state-appointed board, and being the only one must be bad. Being unique isn’t a negative thing. The New York City Police Department was unique when it started CompStat 20 years ago. Now this data-based policing practice is used all over the nation. Perhaps our form of governance is a model other police departments should follow. Let’s not follow the so-called leader – let’s be the leader. It is good to be unique. My mother taught me from an early age that it’s OK to be different, and in this case, it’s more than OK.

Our form of governance has served the people of Kansas City well for generations. It shields their police from corruption, fosters accountability and provides the most professional service possible. Our department’s model of governance should be perpetuated for generations to come.