Kansas City is not Ferguson. Kansas City is not Baltimore.
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté, Mayor Sly James, Board of Police Commissioners President Alvin Brooks and other community leaders sounded that theme Saturday morning in a parking lot rally in the 3100 block of Prospect Avenue.
About 80 elected officials, Police Department employees and neighborhood activists gathered to acknowledge the hard work of relationship-building that reduces conflict between police and residents.
Forté apologized for some past police tactics, such as neighborhood sweeps, that contributed to a lack of trust between officers and residents.
“You can’t go from zero tolerance and strict enforcement and then go back the next day and ask them to work with us,” Forté said during a meet-and-greet session he encouraged in the parking lot.
Forté has tried to avoid commenting on the clashes with police that have rocked other U.S. cities this year. His job, he repeatedly has said, is to focus on improving trust in Kansas City. And that led to his calling for a “peace rally” on Prospect.
Forté said he wanted the entire city, not just the urban core, to know that the Police Department was working to ensure safety for all residents.
“This is a good thing,” said Teresa Perry, who described herself as a community activist involved with the NAACP and neighborhood groups. “It’s good when we have a chief of police who meets with the community and works for all cultures, all people.”
Perry helped distribute fact sheets about the citywide curfew that applies to those ages 17 and under in five entertainment districts — the Country Club Plaza, Westport, Zona Rosa, downtown and the 18th and Vine District.
The mayor called on adults to help enforce the curfew, especially in the coming summer months, and to support activity programs such as the city-sponsored Club KC dances that provide activities for young people. He also emphasized the need to improve literacy among children in the urban core as the first step toward giving them hope for their futures.
“Our expectations have to be high,” James said of children. “Never allow them to think we expect them to fail.”
James said he returned this week from Philadelphia, where he met with other mayors at a Cities United gathering aimed at reducing the violent deaths of African-American men. He said officials from every city were worried about urban violence, especially among youths, and the root conditions that influence it. But he said collaboration in Kansas City between the police, prosecutors and community leaders brings hope.
“This is not Baltimore. This is not Ferguson,” James said, “The reason is because we work together.”
Brooks recalled 1968, when Kansas City was rocked by the kind of violence recently experienced in Ferguson and Baltimore.
“It’s a whole new Police Department now,” Brooks said, complimenting current “inclusive relationships.”
“If you have bigoted, racist, sexist or homophobic ideas, this is not the place to be,” Brooks said of the department. “And that applies to the community, too.”
The police chief also has been using a blog to explain the department’s “tactical disengagement and redeployment” training for officers. It is, he wrote, “a change of mindset for many.” Current training shifts a never-back-down mantra toward using more split-second critical thinking and problem solving.
Forté emphasized in his blog that officers must be physically, mentally and emotionally well, and the department is working more closely with health professionals at Truman Behavioral Health and using peer support to help officers cope with their tough, demanding jobs.
With a nod to the situation in Baltimore, where officers have been criminally charged after failing to provide medical aid to an arrested person, Forté wrote in his blog that “our officers are trained to administer first aid and call for an ambulance at the earliest and safest opportunity when lethal force is used.”