Thursday, August 24, 2017

The truth about how we respond to demonstrations and protests

Despite online rumors and conspiracy theories, let me be clear that the Kansas City Missouri Police Department never invites any person or groups to a demonstration. The KCPD does not sanction any demonstration events. In regard to a protest on Aug. 19, 2017, we never asked for any assistance from any militia group, nor would we.

The sole purpose of KCPD’s presence at any demonstration, rally or protest is to ensure everyone can peacefully and safely exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights to speech and assembly.

Police cannot and will not favor one side over another, no matter how that group may align with our own personal ideals. Officers are only there to maintain peace. As a former Tactical Enforcement commander, I have done this many times. One of the most memorable – and an example of protecting constitutional rights even when we disagree with the message – is when KCPD was assisting the city of Joplin, Mo., after they were ravaged by a tornado in May 2011. A man who supported a group well known for hateful speech came to Joplin, and counter protests from a number of groups were planned. President Obama was scheduled to tour Joplin’s devastation on the same day. Dozens of KCPD officers were trying to maintain peace and order. Due to the building hostility, our officers tried to form a barrier between that particular demonstrator and counter-protestors when several people broke through and tried to attack the demonstrator. My fellow squad members and I tackled the demonstrator to protect him from the onslaught, and then we had to run him out of the crowd surrounded by officers. We undoubtedly saved his life, but ultimately we weren’t there to protect him. We were there to protect the Constitution.

KCPD members will speak with anyone who asks them questions about the safest way to go about a demonstration. A contact is not the same as “collusion,” which some on social media are alleging.

In fact, if police are aware of demonstrations in advance, we have a long-standing practice to reach out to event organizers days or weeks beforehand to give them a point of contact and trade concerns. Some groups even tell us how many people plan to be arrested.

Our policy reinforces what every officer is commanded to do at a demonstration: remain neutral and protect rights, people and property. This is what our policy states:

“A. All citizens have a constitutional right to peaceful assembly and protest. This department has a professional mandate to safeguard and protect all citizens as they exercise their constitutional rights.

“B. The role of law enforcement officers at a peaceful demonstration or strike scene is to protect life and property and keep the peace. Officers must assume and maintain a neutral and impartial demeanor toward the issues of the demonstration or strike.”

You can see the full policy on our web site (the Response to Protest section begins on p. 18).

Note the section that says officers will “maintain a neutral and impartial demeanor toward the issues of the demonstration or strike.”

A recent petition calls for us to cordon off people like militia members at future protests. Our department has a number of practices to maintain peace and order at such events, and we use the minimum amount of intervention and/or force necessary. Commanders were on scene closely monitoring the situation on Aug. 19 to determine whether any greater levels of intervention might be needed. At one point, a confrontation did start between the two groups, and we used a low-level intervention – officers on horses – to separate them.

KCPD will remain as uninvolved as we can to allow for the free expression of ideas. We cannot ask one group to leave a public park or other public area. If two families show up in a park, we can’t tell one to stay and one to leave, and the same applies to protest groups.

Our only goal is to create a safe environment for everyone exercising their rights and for those who may be nearby. 

My first week as Chief

(Chief Richard Smith was sworn in as KCPD's 45th Chief of Police on Aug. 15, 2017.)

It’s been just more than a week now since I was sworn in as the Chief of Police of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, and it has been a whirlwind. I again thank the Board of Police Commissioners for giving me the opportunity to serve in this role. I am humbled and honored to do so.

I’d like to share with you a little about my first week as Chief. Last Thursday, the 17th, I met with all of our commanders and directors to discuss my vision for the department and how I think we can work together to achieve it. I have three primary goals:

1. Set employees up for success

2. Reduce crime and address neighborhood issues

3. Become more efficient and effective through partnerships.

There are many, many factors that go into achieving these things, and I’ll be sharing those in the future. But I wanted to give you a few examples of each of them now.

Set employees up for success- To better cope with the growing mental health crisis that is falling more and more on law enforcement, all patrol officers will receive Crisis Intervention Team training. This will allow every responding officer to have the tools and training necessary to respond to people in mental health or substance abuse crisis in a way that ensures everyone is safe and the person gets needed assistance.

Reduce crime and address neighborhood issues- We’re implementing patrol division-level crime intelligence meetings. Commanders of each patrol division will be held accountable for the crime in their areas. And as soon as staffing allows, all patrol division stations will have an additional community interaction officer, making for 12 altogether. I think this is one of the most important positions on the KCPD, as these officers serve as the points of contact for all neighborhood concerns.

Become more efficient and effective through partnerships- We are working to get social workers assigned to each patrol division in the city. We started this last year when I commanded Central Patrol Division, and our social worker addressed numerous social problems that had evolved into public safety issues, from unruly gatherings of youth on the Plaza to neighborhood disputes. She has been able to step in and resolve things in ways law enforcement could not, and I am certain this would be beneficial city-wide.

I’ve also spent my first week addressing staffing issues. We need to get more call-takers and dispatchers in our 911 Call Center, and we need to get more patrol officers on the streets as soon as possible. They are the heart of what we do as police.

So in the past week, I’ve visited employees in many units around the department. Some were the officers in Central and East Patrol Divisions, and I paid two visits to our Communications Unit to let them know that we are working to get more quality personnel hired to reduce their workloads and improve service to the people of Kansas City. Our patrol officers and communications professionals should know that their hard work is so appreciated and vital, and I am supporting them during these challenging times.

I’ve also been to multiple crime scenes and several protest events. It is very difficult emotionally, but I will continue to be out at crime scenes to see how our people are responding, and if we are doing the most we possibly can to get witnesses to come forward and send the right message to victims’ loved ones and bystanders. I also hope to continue to grow my understanding of what leads to these tragedies and to support the hard-working KCPD members who respond to these incidents. I also will be at demonstrations and events because I’d like to hear the community’s concerns and be accessible.

My first week as Chief of Police has certainly been eventful, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I look forward to serving you.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Farewell from Interim Chief David Zimmerman

Chief David Zimmerman has served as Interim Chief of Police of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department (and author of this blog) during the last three months during the search and hiring process for a new chief. Major Richard C. Smith will be sworn in as the new Chief at 9:30 a.m. next Tuesday, Aug. 15. Today, Chief Zimmerman sent out a farewell message to the members of KCPD, and he wanted to share it with KC residents. 

"As my tenure as Chief of Police draws to a close, I am compelled to expressed some heartfelt words about the last three months. I appreciate the Board of Police Commissioners affording me the opportunity to lead this great organization as they undertook the search for the next Chief of Police. 

"Also, the words of encouragement and support I have received from the public in my day-to-day interactions throughout this city is evidence of the tremendous strides made over that last five years to strengthen the relationship between the police department and the community we serve.
"Further, I find it necessary to express my gratitude to the men and women of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, especially to Executive Command for their assistance and the Chief’s Office staff who kept me on time, on task, on message and headed in the right direction. Finally, and foremost, I must thank all of the women and men of our police department who keep this 24/7 operation moving, particularly those answering the call for 'any car' or 'shots fired.' These brave souls do not hesitate to go in harm’s way to save another while guided by the better angels of our nature.  I realize it sometimes seems like an impossible hill to climb, especially as we try to adjust to staffing reductions of nearly 10 percent from previous years. However, I am confident the members of this organization will persevere and conquer any challenge that arises.  

"I only ask that you show the same support for Chief Rick Smith, who will need it as he faces the daunting task of dealing with violent crime plaguing many areas of our city.  

"Please know that I will cherish my 35 years with the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, especially these last three months, while my thoughts and prayers will be for each of you long after I have ceased wearing the badge and uniform.

Chief David B. Zimmerman "