In my first guest column last month, I addressed priorities for the City Commission in 2020.  These priorities fell into the areas of infrastructure, appearance and image of Leavenworth and developing a 10-year comprehensive plan for the city. In this month’s column, I address the city’s priorities in three other areas: public safety, parks and recreation programs, including the citywide festival known as Camp Leavenworth, and strategic communications and outreach. I will address priorities in the area of economic development and redevelopment in next month’s guest column.   

There is no more important function performed by local government than providing public safety.  This is certainly the case in the First City of Kansas. Each year, the Leavenworth police chief publishes an annual report that provides data on the results of his department’s operations.  These reports include information on crimes, arrests, suicide and domestic violence calls, narcotics enforcement, citations, traffic accidents and animal control, not to mention other topics of interest to the public at large.    

Chief Pat Kitchens is finalizing the report for 2019 and will present it to the Commission during a study session March 3. Preliminarily, the data is trending in a positive direction, with a double-digit decrease in the most serious crimes – murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, theft and auto theft – over the last two years. For less serious crimes such as criminal damage to property, disorderly conduct and curfew violations, the data also show a positive trend during this period, although the decrease is in the single digits.  

In terms of warrants served, cases initiated and suspects charged, the data for narcotic enforcement continues to improve from a nadir in 2016. In 2017, the police department reestablished its narcotics unit and the data between 2017-2019 show that progress is being made. For example, on the number of cases undertaken and suspects charged, there has been a 45% and 68% increase, respectively. These cases and suspects run the gamut from illegal drug users charged with possession to people who have been charged with distributing illegal drugs in our community.  

In 2020, the Leavenworth Police Department will continue to carry out its narcotics enforcement mission aggressively. Sustaining the progress made against illegal drug activity is essential because we are confident this approach will decrease crime rates for the most serious and less serious crimes outlined earlier in this column.       

The total number of traffic citations issued in 2018 and 2019 remained flat, 2,296 and 2,307, respectively. These citations include speeding, with the number issued during October through December 2019 increasing significantly when the police department reestablished its traffic unit Oct. 1. Forty percent of the traffic citations issued during the last three months of 2019 were for speeding. Citations for running red lights also increased, including in downtown on 4th Street.  The purpose of this step-up in traffic enforcement is to make driving in our city safer. While it is too early to tell whether these efforts are having a positive impact on safety, the preliminary data for 2019 show a decrease in traffic accidents from the previous year of almost 9%.  

A commitment to the city’s parks and recreation programs remains a priority for the Commission.  Newly resurfaced basketball courts at Bob Dougherty Park were unveiled last year, newly installed playground equipment was installed at Buffalo Bill Cody Park in late 2018 and partnerships with other youth sports programs in the area are increasing. The renovation of Stubby Park began in January and includes a complete redesign. It will feature new playground equipment, walkways and a parking lot expansion. Care has been taken to not disrupt the area of the park used for sledding. Finally, playground equipment in Dougherty Park is scheduled for replacement in late 2020. Leavenworth families and the youth in our community benefit from these initiatives.   

The second annual Camp Leavenworth is scheduled for later this year in September. During the inaugural iteration of this event last year, more than 9,000 attendees accessed the festival for free and enjoyed music and other entertainment activities, food and fireworks displays. Our goals for the festival in 2020 are to double attendance and increase the entertainment value.  

The city understands the importance of strategic communications and outreach and is redoubling its efforts in both these areas. A new city website launched in 2019, helping bring a virtual City Hall with numerous ways of interacting with the city to citizens who may not be able to take advantage of services during normal business hours, accepting payments online and increasing the amount of relevant information people need. Investments in new hardware and software have been made to improve the quality of broadcasts of the Commission’s meetings on Channel 2.  Later this month, four new 70-inch 4K HD monitors will be mounted in the City Commission chambers with the ability to swivel at various angles for optimal viewing by the public. With this new technology, presentations and other video content will be much easier to read.  

As mayor I consider it important to reach out to individual citizens, community organizations and other public governing bodies. Writing a monthly column for the Leavenworth Times is part of this effort. I also plan to conduct virtual town halls via Facebook Live, with the first one taking place in mid-March. Specifics on the date and time will be put out well in advance. I recently accepted an invitation to speak to the Leavenworth County Senior Citizens Monday luncheon group. These types of events are valuable because of the two-way communication, but my priority is always to listen, learn and commit to bringing back answers to questions I cannot answer.        

Please let the city manager and/or I know if you have ideas about the city going forward or of any concerns you may have regarding your city government. Our contact information is on the city website, www.leavenworthks.org

My email address is mgriswold@firstcity.org and my cell number is 913-240-1295.

Editor’s note: Mike Griswold is the mayor of Leavenworth.