Wednesday, April 29, 2015

We're making changes to enhance community trust and officers' well-being

Whenever unrest between police and residents breaks out in other cities, our local media often ask me to comment about it. I don’t do that because I don’t want to lose my focus on improving trust here in Kansas City.

That said, I certainly am not oblivious to what is happening with police in other places. I actually spent time in Ferguson, Mo., today to talk to residents there and learn about their concerns. Law enforcement is under more scrutiny than ever before. That’s why we’re constantly working to build relationships with other segments of our community, rethinking the way we approach volatile situations and ensuring that our members are well enough mentally and physically to protect and serve with professionalism and integrity.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ve learned about many of the ways the members of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department are partnering and building trust with other community members. (I say “other community members” because we live here, too, and also are part of this community.) The latest initiative we undertook to ensure trust was earlier this month on Election Day. I appointed one of our captains to be an election liaison. His job was to investigate any complaints of officers interfering with the election process (something that happened during an unfortunate chapter of KCPD history in the 1930s), such as any officers intimidating or interfering with voters. One anonymous caller informed us that he thought he saw police officers passing out campaign material. The election liaison went to the location and investigated, but he couldn’t find anything. That was the only reported incident. We will continue using the election liaison at all future elections.

We’re also trying to change the way our officers think about volatile situations that can lead to officer-involved shootings. At this year’s in-service training (required for all officers), we’re teaching a course about tactical disengagement and redeployment. The instructor of the course, Sergeant Ward Smith, describes the idea well: “I can remain in this same position, and I’ll have to use force. But if I use tactics and training and think my way through this, I can pull out of this location and avoid shooting it out with someone.” This is a change of mindset for many. Throughout the history of law enforcement, we’ve had the idea of “never back down, never retreat.” We are encouraging and training our officers to use critical thinking and problem solving to avoid a situation in which they have to shoot someone to protect themselves. This is easier said than done, because oftentimes situations unfold rapidly, leaving officers seconds or less to make decisions. Although we've stressed critical thinking and problem solving in the past, with Sergeant Smith's training, we’re emphasizing the idea that there may be other options. Ultimately, however, we’re only in control of our actions, not the actions of suspects. When a suspect endangers the life of an officer or innocent person, that officer has the legal right to protect himself or herself and others using lethal force.

Our officers are trained to administer first aid and call for an ambulance at the earliest and safest opportunity when lethal force is used. Officers on this department are taught that if they are forced to shoot someone, and if that person is no longer posing a threat to them or others, the officer should immediately render medical care. Their care has kept those they’ve shot alive while awaiting ambulances on too many occasions for me to recall.

Our officers now must qualify on their firearms twice a year. But it isn’t just about hitting a target. A big part of this semiannual firearms training is threat assessment. It’s just as important for officers to know when not to shoot as it is to know when to shoot. Officers are tested in a number of shoot/don’t-shoot scenarios and must pass them to remain in service.

But all the training in the world won’t help an officer who isn’t well enough to effectively do his or her duty. I don’t just mean physical wellness. I’m putting a big focus this year on the overall wellness of our department members. One of the major components of this is addressing secondary trauma. First responders like police officers (and civilian staff like dispatchers and crime scene investigators) see and hear the most disturbing and evil things our society has to offer. They regularly see murdered bodies, abused children, mangled victims of car crashes and more heinous things that are unthinkable to most other people. They deal with angry and grieving loved ones. They are placed in stressful and life-threatening situations.

Those things undoubtedly have a physical, emotional and mental impact on officers, as they would on any human being, and can lead to devastating consequences, both on and off the job. Officers can experience compassion fatigue. In an attempt to protect themselves psychologically, they can stop caring for others. Cumulative secondary trauma also can change the way officers’ brains and bodies respond to things. They become hyper-vigilant and act out of a fight, flight or freeze state. That’s not safe for them or the people with whom they interact. Off the clock, secondary trauma also can devastate officers’ personal and family relationships.

We’ve teamed with Truman Behavioral Health to create training to address this issue. The first course was offered to KCPD employees this month. By the completion of training, participants should be able to define and identify secondary trauma and risk factors; describe the mind-body connection to secondary trauma in work and life; complete a variety of assessment tools; and practice, reflect upon and develop coping skills to build resiliency for self and peer support. Several peer support initiatives are underway, as well. We already have several informal groups meeting whose members are coping with a variety of issues from work and home, and we plan to expand and formalize those. We’re often so busy helping others that we can forget we need help, too.

Some of our officers also are participating in the Save a Warrior program. The Kansas City Star did a great feature on it a few weeks ago. It seeks to help those who have been in the military and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Our department has many military veterans.

These are just some of the many ways we’re trying to better care for our people so they can better care for their community. We’re sponsoring a peace rally at 10 a.m. this Saturday at 31st and Prospect. I want members of our department to come together with other members of the community to rally for peace in our city and our nation.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Answering questions about my compensation

Recently, some members of the media have asked questions about my compensation, particularly for my after-hours work. I am happy to share that information with everyone because it is not at all an issue. It’s a public record, and it should be public because I am compensated with taxpayer dollars. Full disclosure is a must for a public servant. Public servants also must be good stewards of the funds with which they are entrusted. 

Oftentimes when I speak to young men, I share with them they can be and do anything in life, and that with determination, focus and – most importantly – a strong faith in God, that any goal can be achieved. My goal early on in life was to become a police officer. As I have maneuvered around many obstacles while ascending the rank structure of the police department, I have realized that opportunities existed and have taken advantage of those opportunities. Some of those opportunities included furthering my education, to serve as a mentor and to be mentored, and to engage non-traditional segments of the community in crime reduction strategies, among others.

Too often, the young men I engage in conversation have no hope for the future, no goals and just an overall feeling of despair. My story is and will continue to be, work hard, and you will be successful in whatever field you elect to pursue. I share with them that my starting salary on the police department was $20,000 a year, and now my yearly salary is nearly $186,874. Job satisfaction, a desire to serve others as well as a commitment to endure regardless of obstacles placed in your path is more important than financial compensation. Do not get me wrong, financial compensation is needed because I was taught at an early age that if a man does not work, he does not eat! 

I hold no ill will to those who perceive my compensation to be excessive. As long as I serve as the chief of police of our great city, I will give nothing but my best, as I have during my 29-year with career with this great department.

To do that, I don’t just work during business hours. The safety of our city is on my mind nearly all the time. I don’t wake up to a clock. I usually sleep from midnight to 5 a.m. on a good day. I think it is very important for me to be out engaging the community and responding to incidents. How much is it worth to the city to prevent large-scale civil unrest, which has the potential to cost a lot more than any overtime I may accrue? I have and will continue to respond to potentially volatile situations. I am not a sit-in-the-office kind of guy. Being visible in the community is necessary and has proven beneficial, especially during the recent incidents of civil unrest around the country. One of my top priorities has been to reduce violent crime, and last year we experienced our lowest homicide rate in 42 years. I also like to keep in touch with our front-line officers and staff and see first-hand the good work they’re doing.

Members of our department who are in managerial positions (captain or above) earn compensatory time instead of overtime pay. Per policy, they can earn up to 160 hours of compensatory time (but can only be compensated for a maximum 120 hours upon retirement). I am not bound by these restrictions. I serve at the pleasure of the Board of Police Commissioners, and they have not placed a limit on the amount of compensatory time I can receive. However, they do keep tabs on it and have previously requested my balance. Currently I have more than 1,800 hours of compensatory time accumulated. This amount is cumulative from many years of work and because I rarely take time off. To use it all up, I’d have to be gone for months, and I refuse to do that.

Although permitted by policy, I rarely submit requests for compensation for less than three hours worked. Policy permits compensation for 7 minutes or more worked in excess of an eight-hour work day. I feel I am blessed to be able to serve our community with a great salary, so there is no need to receive extra compensation for everything I do. I do not routinely submit requests for overtime.

In fact, I have never submitted overtime for any incident of civil unrest where I only observed from afar, nor have I ever submitted overtime for any work performed while at home. It is 4 a.m. as I write this. I am starting my day by preparing notes for this blog. My day is scheduled to end after 7:30 p.m. if all goes well. There will not be, nor should there be, any extra compensation received for today. I make regular appearances on early television morning shows for no compensation. Due to prior incidents of unrest, I spend most Friday and Saturday evenings on the Country Club Plaza during the summer and tweet to let the public know about what’s happening there, which also is mostly uncompensated.

My salary is in line with previous KCPD chiefs. When the prior chief left in 2011, his salary was about $180,000. Previous police chiefs also received compensatory time just as I do, and I am not aware that their use of it ever was questioned. Regardless, I understand I am a public servant, and I must remain open about the way I operate and use taxpayer money.

At the end of my career, I can elect to remain on payroll after I physically leave the department to draw down my compensatory balance over time, or I can receive lump-sum compensation for any leave balance.

Again, I felt a strong desire to share with everyone about my compensation since several media outlets have shown an interest. There has not been and will never be any misuse of taxpayer dollars. I will continue to earn every penny of my compensation as I focus on reducing crime and helping people be and feel safe!

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Monday, April 6, 2015

On the Plaza, we'll engage at the level necessary to prevent crime

You might have heard about an incident on the Plaza this weekend in which young people were destructive to property. The situation on the Plaza is not unique to the current teenage generation, nor are the issues unique to Kansas City. In 1983, I recall the street dance era when many African-American youth visited the Plaza on the weekend to participate in the break dance craze or to watch the talented dancers. African-American youth were not welcome on the Plaza then, and the police were not shy about expressing that we were not welcome. When I was 21 years old, a police officer approached a friend and me to tell us that we were not welcome on the Plaza, and he asked us to leave. We questioned him about his desire for us to leave and he responded by grabbing me by the shirt, which resulted in my button being pulled off. I remembered his name.
Upon joining the police department, I met the officer. He was very stern in his communication to others and was respected by his peers. That’s changing. The KCPD is making great strides with building and nurturing relationships in other segments of the community and will continue to do so.

Today's method of policing on the Plaza is based on respect, with less emphasis on enforcement than in decades past. Officers, both on duty and those working off-duty security for the Plaza, have shown a great deal of respect and patience for the youth who visit the Plaza. As I have communicated previously, everyone is welcome to enjoy all parts of our city. All I and others ask is that everyone – old and young alike – adhere to the laws and be respectful of themselves and others. We will not tolerate behavior that jeopardizes safety or behavior that involves any type of destruction of property. Patience and understanding will be shown to everyone, and a zero-tolerance strategy will not be deployed. There is no reason to punish the law-abiding majority for the negative actions of the minority. Those who enjoy the Plaza will dictate our response – we will engage at the level necessary to prevent crime and to keep everyone safe.

For the parents, guardians and others who are concerned, please help us keep our kids safe by setting a positive example, speaking encouraging words and by explaining why it is important to be good citizens. Also, please share curfew times and guidelines with those who are impacted by them.

Mayor Sly James and I regularly discuss Plaza-related issues and often times discuss how we might better provide opportunities for our youth. During the school year, we encourage young people to focus on their school work, be part of school-related activities, join a mentoring program or even get an after-school job. In the summer, the Mayor's Nights and Club KC are several venues where our youth can have fun in safe environments. The time is approaching for the commencement of the Mayor's Night athletic programs and Club KC. The programs begin on May 23, continuing through August 15. Last year, juvenile crime decreased by 18 percent while Club KC was in session. Let's try and show a greater decrease this year.

As a reminder, individuals age 17 and younger are subject to an 11 p.m. curfew on weeknights and a midnight curfew on weekends up until the Friday before Memorial Day. From the Friday of Memorial Day weekend until the last Sunday in September, the curfew is set at 10 p.m. for minors 15 and younger. For minors ages 16 and 17, the curfew is set at 11 p.m. in most parts of the City.

The City’s five entertainment districts -- the Plaza, Westport, Downtown/Central Business District, 18th and Vine, and Zona Rosa -- have a special curfew during those summer months that requires anyone under 18 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian after 9 p.m. during those summer months.

Thank you, Kansas City, for being such a great city, and let us continue to keep our city safe, vibrant and inviting!

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