Just two days after the horrific shootings at two Jewish centers in Overland Park, Police Chief John Douglass was seated at a rabbi’s table, partaking in a community seder on the second night of Passover.
No one would have faulted the chief for skipping the event. But it was the Douglass style to join in, sharing his torn-up personal feelings of letting down the community that relied on his leadership for safety. The gunman took the lives of three Christians while targeting Jews four days before Douglass’ planned retirement. After 40-plus years in police work, he couldn’t have envisioned a worse exit.
Douglass teared up at a news conference following the capture of the suspect just 20 minutes after the first shots were fired. Thanks to many 911 calls, heroic witnesses and effective police mobilization, a known anti-Semite suspect was in custody.
As Douglass told others at the seder a week ago, again with tears in his eyes, the killer came to create divisiveness and “utterly failed.” The shootings united faith communities, neighborhoods and politicians here and around the world in condemnation.
Douglass has faced other tragedies, including shocking child abuse that he once said “burned a spot in my soul.”
But he departs city police work with a raft of well-wishers who praise his efforts to keep close to the community and pushing his officers to do so as well. He was a leader in combating racial profiling and led the In Defense of Our Schools initiative, a task force focused on school safety. That work led to an invitation to become the Shawnee Mission School District’s director of safety and security, starting May 1. His compassion and calm demeanor last week earned him more deserved praise on a job well done for a shaken community.