Friday, May 15, 2015

Remarks from 2015 Police Memorial Service

We conducted our annual Memorial Service yesterday to remember the 119 officers who have died in service to our city since 1881. It was part of National Police Week activities - a week dedicated to fallen officers across the country. Below are my remarks from yesterday:

Again, thank you for coming to the 2015 Kansas City Missouri Police Department Memorial Service. I’m pleased to be back here in front of our newly renovated Headquarters building. If you’d been here before the renovations, you’ll notice that our memorial statue now is in a much more prominent and accessible place. It’s now at ground level, so everyone who passes by can read the 119 names inscribed there. And the original KCPD memorial is just to the south, also now at ground level so the public can read and appreciate the sacrifices made by the members of this department over the last 140 years.

In many ways, our officers are safer now than they were, say, in the 1920s, when three or more were killed annually. That was the deadliest decade for our department. We now have things like bullet-resistant vests and advanced training, which I’ll talk more about in a bit.

Last year, we started a tradition of having surviving family members of our fallen officers share their experiences. I’d now like to ask Trudy Meyers to come speak. Her husband, KCPD Officer Tom Meyers, had 25 years of service in law enforcement when he was struck and killed by a drunk driver on January 14, 1998. I’d like to invite her to tell her story now.

-Remarks by Trudy Meyers -

Thank you, Mrs. Meyers, for sharing your experiences. Nothing I can say can change what happened or ease the sting of your loss.

Law enforcement remains a dangerous profession, and recent incidents of civil unrest across the nation have made it even more so. Police are under more scrutiny than ever before, and some people are willing to commit violent acts against officers. After several years of decline, American law enforcement officer deaths increased by 24 percent in 2014, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. A total of 126 officers were killed in the line of duty last year. Firearm-related deaths spiked by 56 percent, accounting for 50 officer deaths last year. And perhaps most frightening, ambush was the leading cause of felonious deaths against officers.

But I can assure you we are doing everything we can so no other Kansas City Missouri Police Officer’s family has to endure what the Meyers family did. There are so many people behind the scenes who work to protect our personnel out on the street, and I wanted to recognize some of them today. The lives of our officers indirectly rest in their hands, and they get little recognition for that.

To start with, I’d like to recognize our training staff at the Academy. They lay the foundation for all officer safety. Our officers know almost everything they know about how to handle situations with professionalism and caution because of our trainers. The Academy staff provides recruits with nearly eight months of training in everything from firearms to legal studies to defensive tactics to first aid. They conduct research into best practices and always are updating their approaches. At this service last year, I spoke about the Below 100 training two of our drivers’ training instructors developed for KCPD. It now is required for all sworn personnel. The goal of this training is to reduce officer fatalities nationwide to fewer than 100 each year. This is just one example of the innovative work our trainers do. They also provide annual training to officers to keep their knowledge, skills and abilities in top form. When officers must make split-second, life-and-death decisions, they must rely on their training. Surely you’ve heard someone say, “I just went back to my training.” The work our Academy staff members are doing provides that critical training, and it has served KCPD officers very well. 

Once they’re out on the street, the lifeline of every officer is the dispatcher. Calltakers and dispatchers work together to provide officers with the information they need to be prepared to enter any situation. They keep track of where the officers are so they can provide whatever resources the officers need, from back-up to an ambulance. They are expert multi-taskers, and our officers rely on them for their safety.

Of course the officers could never talk to a dispatcher if they didn’t have their radios and other communication equipment. The folks in our Communication Support Unit install and maintain this technology. This equipment is absolutely mandatory for police to do their job and do it safely. And this isn’t the equipment we used when I came on the department 29 years ago. More than $20,000 in equipment goes onto every patrol car, including video cameras and recorders, in-car computers, E-ticket printers, LED light bars and so much more. Even the radios are no longer just radios. They’re all small computers. The officers know if anything goes wrong with any of those pieces of equipment, they can’t do their job safely. They also know they can count on the staff of the Communication Support Unit to get it up and running again as quickly as possible, even though that unit maintains radio equipment for the entire city’s fleet of vehicles.

And the cars that those officers drive are maintained by the Fleet Operations Unit. A properly functioning vehicle is essential for keeping officers safe and serving our residents. Forty-nine officers died last year in traffic crashes nationwide. Despite the amount of miles and rough driving our cars endure, Fleet Operations personnel make sure they’re running as well as possible.

The Supply Unit ensures every officer is properly equipped with all the tools they need to do their job and keep them safe, from ballistic shields to bullet-resistant vests.

There are other less obvious positions supporting officer safety. Much of the animosity toward police in the past year has been driven not by people’s actual experiences with police, but what they saw in the news and social media. Our Media Unit works constantly to build trust and support for our officers in the community. Just take a look at the department’s social media pages some time and see the tens of thousands of people on them who support the KCPD. There always will be people who want to harm us simply because we are police officers. But the Media Unit works hard to create a positive perception of police and create champions for our officers in Kansas City. Ultimately, that enhances officer safety.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank all the people who help prevent police fatalities here but get very little public credit for doing so. I could go on and on about these behind-the-scenes folks, from the Benefits Section to the Fiscal Division. The officers know how valuable they are, but rarely does anyone at a podium say so. I’m glad I got to do so today.

I also want to thank Trudy Meyers for her touching remarks about the loss of her husband. And to her and all the survivors here today, words cannot express our sorrow at your loved one’s sacrifice in service to their community. We offer you our continuous support. We also want you to know there are hundreds of people here working to ensure no other KCPD officer is killed in the line of duty. I mentioned many of those groups today. In addition to thanking an officer for their service when you see one, I’d encourage everyone here to thank our other staff, as well.