The encounter had the makings of another Michael Brown case.
A young black teen, later searched and found to be unarmed, stared down the barrel of a gun pointed at him by a white police officer in Lee’s Summit.
Although the apprehension of the teen, who was a person of interest in a murder investigation, concluded with his lawful detention and subsequent release, the episode could have ended much differently.
Thanks to highly-trained police officers and their community-oriented approach, it did not.
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In the second edition of Willard Oliver’s book “Community-Oriented Policing: A Systemic Approach to Policing,” community-oriented policing is defined as a systematic approach with the goal of instilling a sense of community to improve the quality of life.
The book also states that community-oriented policing is made up of three key elements: strategic-oriented policing, neighborhood-oriented policing and problem-solving policing.
In general, the approach may also reduce the tension between police and residents. Less tension, in most cases, leads to fewer verbal and physical confrontations between law enforcement and citizens.
A study published in August in the “Journal of Experimental Criminology” seems to back up most of that theory.
The study suggests that community-oriented policing strategies have positive effects on citizen satisfaction, perceptions of disorder and police legitimacy, but limited effects on crime and fear of crime.
The approach was instituted several years ago in Lee’s Summit by former Police Chief Joe Piccinini, who wanted to foster proactive involvement to reduce crime by building community partnerships.
The arrest of two suspects within hours of a Lee’s Summit homicide Oct. 30 is the perfect illustration of how the strategy can help prevent officer-involved shootings, a hot-button topic around the country since the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
The death of Brown, who was unarmed when he was shot by a white police officer, has caused law enforcement departments around the country to examine their policies and training in dealing with members of the community they were sworn to protect and serve.
In the Lee’s Summit case, the encounter with the initial person of interest was not without tense moments for some of the city’s police officers, who were investigating their first true murder case in nearly five years.
Following a lead, shortly after 2 p.m. investigators descended on an area near a business park east of Missouri 291 and Bayberry Lane. They were on the lookout for a white Ford Focus occupied by two young males that reportedly sped from the scene of a murder that morning in the 900 block of Northeast Bristol Drive.
According to authorities, Lee’s Summit residents Jalen L. Randolph and Trevaris D. Rachel had gone to the home on Bristol Drive to buy drugs from 17-year-old Matthew Parker. A witness stated that Randolph and Rachel went to the home with the intent to rob Parker of marijuana and money.
Randolph told police Rachel pulled out a gun and told Parker to “give it up.” After Parker handed over some money, Rachel demanded more and eventually got about $200 from under a sofa cushion. Randolph said that he was starting to leave when he heard a gunshot.
Rachel gave a different account. He said that Randolph had been holding a gun to Parker’s chest when he heard a shot fired.
Later that afternoon, a tip led police to the 600 block of Southeast Kristi Lane in search of the white Ford Focus. Kristi Lane intersects with Bayberry Lane near the entrance of Bayberry Business Center.
Police encountered a person of interest passing through the business center’s parking lot on foot. With guns drawn, they ordered him to show his hands and to slowly kneel to the ground.
Another command left the young male face-down as a team of armed officers swarmed in to place him in handcuffs.
A few hundred feet away, in the same complex, other officers had their sights on another person of interest in the case. They immediately apprehended the man, who would later be identified as Randolph.
The first person was questioned and eventually released without charges.
Randolph and Rachel were also arrested without incident, and for that the Lee’s Summit Police Department should serve as a model of the community-focused approach to policing.
As we’ve seen play out before, the situation on Bayberry Lane could have ended much differently.
Toriano Porter is a reporter for the Lee’s Summit Journal, a sister publication of The Kansas City Star.