Monday, June 14, 2021

Police response to those with mental illness has evolved significantly

Few people in Kansas City have as much day-to-day interaction with those experiencing mental illness or substance abuse crises as the members of KCPD. That’s why we have worked diligently for years now to prepare and equip our staff to safely interact with those in crisis, get them to the resources they need and, if possible, keep them out of the criminal justice system.

In the early 2010s, we realized how important it was, so we created a squad of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officers dedicated to serving and following up with members of our community with mental illness who came to the attention of law enforcement. They work hand-in-hand with community mental health liaisons (social workers from mental health treatment providers). In 2020 – even among COVID restrictions - this squad responded to 675 calls for service involving those with mental illness. They conducted 464 follow-up visits in addition to that. They contacted homeless individuals 449 times to help them get treatment and housing.

They also conducted extensive mental health awareness and de-escalation training for our KCPD officers and other area law enforcement, as well as community and panel presentations.

Thanks to our CIT squad and social workers, thousands of members of our community got the help they really needed instead of being thrown into the criminal justice system or having a negative encounter with law enforcement.

This squad also was integral to the creation of the Kansas City Assessment and Triage Center (KC-ATC) in the 2600 block of E. 12th Street. It opened in 2016. It’s a public-private partnership between the KCPD, City of Kansas City, Missouri Department of Mental Health and seven Kansas City hospitals. It only accepts patients from police or hospital emergency rooms, and patients must agree to go voluntarily. Before KC-ATC, emergency rooms used to be the only option for police to take those in mental health or substance abuse crisis. Patients often were sent on their way with a prescription for medication and a referral to a mental health care provider. The onus was on the patient to arrange for their own follow-up care, which many were not in the correct mental state to do. At KC-ATC, case workers ensure patients are assigned to their nearest mental health care provider, and that care provider is charged with following up with the patient.

It’s not enough to have just one squad of CIT officers, though. While about 40% of our department’s officers were CIT-certified, having taken the full 40-hour course, I felt every single officer needed to know the basics. Now every sworn KCPD member must take a 2.5-day Introduction to  CIT course. Given their frequent encounters with those in mental health crisis, this is a benefit to both them and the community. We developed this course in collaboration with  CIT International, a not-for-profit organization established in 2006 that is the leader in promoting safe and humane response to those experiencing a mental health crisis. One of our own, Major Darren Ivey, serves on its executive committee. They promote community collaboration using the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Program to assist people living with mental illness and/or addiction who are in crisis.

CIT International is governed by a Board of Directors who come from all aspects of the CIT community: law enforcement, behavioral health, family/advocates, and persons with lived experiences. It’s led by an executive director.

In addition to the Intro to CIT and basic CIT courses, our 911 call-takers and dispatchers also take extensive CIT training. Many of our staff members also have taken CIT courses specific to certain populations such as veterans and youth.

Our department social service workers also have stepped in to assist. They have helped many Kansas City residents in crisis get the resources they need for housing, food, and more. As I stated in a previous blog, police working with social service workers is one of the most safe and effective ways to address ongoing issues in our community that have come to the attention of law enforcement.

Much of our work with those who are in mental illness or substance abuse crisis involves de-escalation. So many facets of our training incorporate de-escalation, and we were one of the leaders in developing it in the mid-2010s. A large portion of our annual firearms training is devoted to preventing use of force encounters. Both our recruit Academy and annual in-service training include both specific de-escalation techniques and how they can be used in a variety of situations, from domestic violence to mental health crises to serving warrants.

As policing evolves, KCPD continues to seek nontraditional responses. Public-private partnerships, social services and de-escalation are all examples of the commitment this Department has to our city.

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Friday, May 14, 2021

Hiring freeze depletes police staffing

Within the month of April, our Police Athletic League had 1,019 contacts with youth. In the current school year, three Youth Programs Section officers and one sergeant worked with more than 2,000 students teaching D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T. curriculum both virtually and in person in 18 schools.* They spend 15 to 18 hours a week in the classroom. They often eat lunch with students and join them at recess. Before the pandemic, they reached 4,000 children in 30 schools. The relationships our Youth Services Unit builds through these interactions are priceless. They build bridges in the community and help kids make smart choices.

Unfortunately, however, those programs would be among the first to get cut if our current hiring freeze continues. We would have to eliminate elements whose officers primarily are tasked with community policing and relationship building. The officers assigned to those units would be reassigned to answer 911 calls, which is our core duty.

So far in 2021, we are losing 8.5 officers per month to attrition. Last year, the average was 7.58 per month. The number has risen steadily since 2011, when the average officer loss was just 3.25 per month. This usually is not much of an issue because we are able to fill those positions with new recruits coming out of the Academy. We have not had an Academy class since February 2020 due to funding, however, so we have continued to fall farther and farther behind on staffing. We are down 116 officers and do not have the budget to replace them.

If KCPD continues to lose officers at the 8.5 per month rate, we will have 1,151 by April 2022. That is equivalent to the amount of officers KCPD had in 1993, at which time Kansas City, Mo., had a population of about 435,000. Our city now approaches 500,000 in population. The 1,151 number assumes the 8.5 per month loss rate does not increase. Given the increases over the last 10 years, however, it seems that number will continue to climb. 

It takes 10 months of training both in our Academy and in the field until a new officer can operate independently. Hypothetically, if we were able to start a new Academy class on June 1, those recruits would not be in the work force until April 2022. Even then, they would still be on probationary status for an additional six months.

In short, our current hiring freeze is setting the Department back in adequate staffing for years to come.

Practically, what does this look like? I already mentioned the reduction of community outreach programs. Increased response times also will be inevitable. Earlier this week we had to send officers from Shoal Creek Patrol Division north of the Missouri River all the way down to the southern end of the city in South Patrol to answer a 911 call because no one else was available. Residents already are waiting for some time for police to respond to non-injury crashes, burglaries, property damage and other incidents not involving threats to life or safety, and they deserve more prompt service.

Those increased response times will impact other emergency services, as well. Paramedics, EMTs and firefighters rely on police to ensure their safety before entering many types of situations. So far just this year, police have had to render the scene safe for the Kansas City Fire Department nearly 6,100 times. Many of those are medical emergencies in which seconds mean the difference between life or death. A delayed response from police in these situations will put lives on the line.

So far I’ve only discussed the shortage of police officers in the hiring freeze. Our professional staff are experiencing significant reductions, as well. We’re losing about seven non-sworn staff members per month. How does this impact the public? One example is our Crime Laboratory. We are down 11 people there currently, which is 15% of the staff. This will lead to case backlogs and significant delays in solving crimes using science and technology.

The people who live, work and play in Kansas City expect and deserve quality police service. A safe city drives economic development, which improves everyone’s quality of life. Given our current budgetary restrictions, we are increasingly unable to provide the kind of service our community has come to expect.

We are asking for the community’s support to get the funding to end our hiring freeze. The City received $97.5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. We ask that you ask your city council members to allocate some of that to the Police Department so that we can provide the timely response, criminal investigations and much-needed community engagement you deserve.

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 * Jackson County COMBAT provides a portion of the funding for our D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T. programs.


Friday, April 16, 2021

New First Amendment policy responds to community requests

On March 23, our Board of Police Commissioners approved a policy that we have been working toward since early last summer: the First Amendment Protected Activities Policy.

This was a reform requested by our community. The new policy establishes guidelines and procedures for department members when engaging with individuals participating in First Amendment-protected activities.

We take an oath to uphold the Constitution, to include the First Amendment. Protecting everyone’s right to expression is integral to our mission.  

The department did extensive legal research and looked into best practices nationwide to draft the new policy. Members met with community stakeholders, city leaders, prosecutors and others to create the policy that addresses community concerns. As the policy was being created, we revised it multiple times in response to their suggestions.

The new policy directs members to minimize displays of force. It states, “The display of armored vehicles, personal protective equipment or other displays of force will be minimized to the extent safely possible.”

 It also states, “Members will make all reasonable efforts to allow law-abiding individuals to continue to exercise their First Amendment protected rights, and will focus efforts on those individuals in the active assembly who violate the law.”

The First Amendment Policy explicitly prohibits officers from using less-lethal weapons and munitions – other than chemical agents –  to disperse crowds in the event of an unlawful assembly.

We have listened to the changes the community wanted to see, and we have implemented them. We are here to support and protect the exercise of First Amendment rights. More times than I can count, officers have risked their personal safety to shield a demonstrator from violence by a counter-protestor or something similar. We have blocked streets to protect marchers from vehicles on numerous occasions, as we have also protected drivers.

We ask that participants do their part, as well, by respecting the safety and property of others, as the law requires at all other times. It is our duty to balance the freedom of expression with public safety. We are willing to work with any group or individual to coordinate the successful exercise their constitutional rights.

We are working hard to support First Amendment rights, and we look forward to the community supporting the rights of everyone to be safe and secure, as well.

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Friday, January 8, 2021

With KC's 2020 homicide increase below national average and clearance rates above, KCPD works to buck violent crime trends

Kansas City, Mo., was, tragically, part of a national trend that saw a large increase in homicides in 2020. The KCPD, however, is doing everything to buck those trends. Our homicide rate dropped significantly in the fall, and our clearance rate for 2020 was well above the national average.

Not all the national data from 2020 have been compiled yet, but FBI statistics from the first nine months show that homicides were up 20.9 percent in America. In the nation’s 69 largest cities, homicides through Sept. 30, 2020, were up by 28.7%, according to the Major Cities Chiefs Association. Kansas City recorded 148 homicides in 2019 and 176 in 2020. That’s a 19% increase, which was below the national average in increased homicides. (Although right now the national average is composed of just the first nine months of 2020.)  

But all the numbers do not ease the grief of anyone who lost a loved one to violence, and 2020 was, indeed, a record-setting homicide year in our city. That’s why we undertook many initiatives to combat the violence, such as assigning additional homicide and assault detectives and Operation LeGend – a 10-week influx of nearly 200 federal agents to help us solve violent crime cases and get the most violent offenders into custody.

Homicides fell significantly after Operation LeGend, which ran from mid-July to mid-September. You can see the monthly rate of homicides this year compared to the average over the past five years. We cannot definitively say Operation LeGend was the cause, but there was correlation. Before Operation LeGend, we were on pace to have more than 200 homicides in 2020.

We also worked diligently to get justice for those who were killed. Based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Rate (UCR) standard, our homicide clearance rate for 2020 was 73%. That’s up significantly from 2019, when it was 55%. The FBI reported that the national average homicide clearance rate was 61.4% in 2019, the most recent data available. It typically hovers in the low 60s. Despite a higher workload, our investigators were able to bring justice to the loved ones of 128 victims in 2020.

Our clearance rates go against national trends recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, showing that police in the United States have been clearing fewer murders during the pandemic.

Despite being below the national average for homicide increases, the increase was nonetheless devastating for our community. We had 1- and 4-year-old murder victims. Fathers, sons, brothers, mothers, sisters and daughters lost their lives to senseless violence, inflicting untold trauma on families.

The men and women of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, alongside our community, local, state and federal partners, will do everything we can to prevent and solve these crimes. Operation LeGend left us with additional federal resources to stop gun crimes and more. As always, police cannot succeed in a vacuum, so we need the help of residents to make their neighborhoods safer. If you know something that can help us solve or prevent a violent crime, let the TIPS Hotline know at 816-474-TIPS (8477). You could even earn a $25,000 cash reward and stay anonymous.

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