Our social workers continue to make a tremendous impact on the lives of people throughout Kansas City. This was the first full year we’ve had one at all six patrol divisions. Their job is to help in situations that come to the attention of law enforcement but cannot be resolved by police. They’ve helped a family whose home burned down. They’ve helped victims of domestic violence start new lives. And ultimately, they’ve gotten residents the resources they need to be successful and reduced the need for law enforcement involvement. As of Dec. 3, KCPD social workers have assisted 1,815 people and attended 488 community outreach events in 2019.
Community Interaction Officers
Our 12 Community Interaction Officers (CIOs) – two at each patrol division station – have worked tirelessly to build relationships with residents and make neighborhoods safer. They’ve provided block-watch training for countless neighborhoods to empower residents in keeping their communities safe. The CIOs work with business owners to implement security measures and address concerns. They’ve worked hand-in-hand with social workers to address issues of repeated calls for service to particular addresses and in finding help for families in need.
They have organized countless free community events from family movie nights to job fairs for ex-offenders to health and safety fairs to Christmas parties for deserving youth. Our Kansas City United Against Crime events coordinated by CIOs in the first weekend of October brought communities together to play, learn and get to know one another. Our Halloween events – undertaken with business, church and non-profit partners – gave thousands of children a safe place to go on Halloween. All of these things also built lasting relationships between children, their families and KCPD.
One of the biggest ways we can impact the future safety of our city is through building trust and understanding with youth. I’ve previously written about Teens in Transition, the Police Athletic League and many other things we do to facilitate those relationships. We expanded the Police Athletic League last year to include PAL Nights - a structured and fun environment for urban-core youth on weekend nights in the spring and summer. This offers a safe place for kids to socialize and enjoy themselves while getting to know officers in a relaxed setting.
I wanted to highlight a few of our other youth initiatives here:
Youth Police Initiative – Our Youth Police Initiative began in 2018, and an academic review of the program in 2019 shows what an impact it’s making. The program’s goal is to bring at-risk youth together with police officers to share personal stories, meals and to let their guards down long enough to have difficult and honest discussions that will create relationships and understanding for both the youth and officers. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice surveyed the 45 participants in our Youth Police Initiative at the beginning and the end of their week in the program. Over the course of that week, the teens who said, “I know at least one police officer who I can trust” went up by 181%. You can read more about it in our February 2019 Informant newsletter.
Youth Police Academy – This week-long version of the Citizens Police Academy for middle schoolers had more than 150 participants from throughout the City. They did everything from dust for fingerprints to learn conflict resolution.
Catching Fury – This camp was designed by women on our department and at neighboring police and fire departments to encourage young women ages 13 to 17 to pursue careers in public safety in partnership with the Girl Scouts of America. More is on p. 3 of our June Informant newsletter.
Explorers – We’ve recently restarted our Police Explorer Program in conjunction with the Boy Scouts of America. This program is for youth ages 14-20 to introduce them to all aspects of our department so that they might consider careers here. Explorers also volunteer with KCPD and will be issued uniforms and radios.
School Resource Officers – We have School Resource Officers (SROs) serving at several high schools in the Kansas City Public School District. They are there in an official capacity to help with security and enforce any laws as needed, but what they really do is serve as mentors. For many of the kids in those schools, the SROs are one of the few people in their lives who offer stability. Many students confide in the SROs, and the SROs have been known to take teens having a hard time under their wings. I would love to be able to expand our SRO program.
DARE - We have DARE officers in nearly every elementary school in this city - parochial, public and charter - north and south of the River. We believe getting officers in contact with children at a young age teaches them that police are trustworthy and there to help. I regularly hear rave reviews from teachers about the impact our DARE officers have on children in the schools they serve.
Badges for Basics
Our Badges for Basics program is solving crime and building trust with toilet paper and shampoo. This collaboration with the non-profit, Giving the Basics, provides hygiene products to members of our community who have difficulty affording them. Our officers go to high-crime and low-income areas to hand out these products so residents can have dignity. The Badges for Basics partnership earned the Excellence in Collaboration honor from NonProfit Connect’s Philanthropy Awards in May and has been featured in multiple national publications. From March 21 through today, Badges for Basics has given out nearly 30,000 hygiene products.
Just two weeks ago, we partnered with Hy-Vee and Harvesters to provide 500 free Christmas dinners to needy families. On Dec. 23, we worked with Hy-Vee again to deliver catered meals to four deserving families identified by our social workers. Many Christmas gifts were delivered that day, as well. I couldn’t possibly count how much money our members spend out of their own pockets to make the holidays brighter for so many families in our community. It’s not just during the holidays, either. I’d be willing to bet every officer on this department has bought a Happy Meal for a child in a tough situation.
Assisting sexual assault victims
One of our crime scene technicians went viral with her idea to provide new sheets and bedding to victims of sexual assault. CSI usually has to take these items to process for physical evidence, and it often is the only bedding the victim has. When our CSI tech asked for donations of new sheets to provide to victims, the request went viral on our Facebook page in 2018. It recirculated again this year, and we received so many packages of new sheets and bedding in 2019 (from Kansas City and around the world) that we ran out of room to store them and distributed them to neighboring agencies.
Many of the things outlined here are not short-term fixes to problems like violent crime or mistrust of law enforcement. They are means to meeting long-term goals of a safer city for everyone and a trusting relationship between KCPD and the community. We are in it for the long haul. Fixing the problems of violence and mistrust takes long, hard work, and we are committed to that.
We may not be able to convince every last person that we are here for good, but for the 32 years I’ve been here, this police department has been working tirelessly to build as much trust as we possibly can. I think that sets us apart from other cities where a trusting relationship with the community isn’t such a priority for law enforcement. That trust is a very big deal to me and the members of the KCPD, and we will work toward it with every Trunk-or-Treat, social worker visit and 911 response we can.
You may have noticed that many of the good things we got to be a part of in 2019 were the result of partnerships with individuals, non-profits, faith communities and businesses. These are people who care deeply about their city and want good things for it. They help pay for the projector at movie nights, holiday meals at Christmas and Halloween candy for children. They transport beds for our social workers to give to families who don’t have one. They give us hygiene products to help those who need them for dignity. They are the unsung heroes of Kansas City.
What I’ve outlined here are just a very few of the good things we got to be part of in 2019. Yes, we will always be there when the bad things happen, but we look forward to being part of more and more good, as well.
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