OPINION

Lessons from a Kansas Police Chief about fighting crime

Ernest Evans

A series of polls in recent months have shown that the American public is deeply concerned about the issue of violent crime in our society. When asked to list the most urgent issues confronting the nation, a high percentage of the population has been mentioning the crime issue.

Ernest Evans

If there were any doubt about the depth of the public's concern about the crime issue it was dispelled by the June 22, 2021 primaries for mayor of New York City. For both major parties, the final winner in the primary was the candidate most strongly identified with taking a tough approach to the city's crime problems.

This public concern should be a surprise to no one--the country has been in the midst of a major surge of violence since the last months of 2019. In the calendar year 2020 there was a 30% increase in the number of homicides; the previous record for a one-year increase in homicides was in 1968 when there was a 13% increase in homicides.

However, while there is a high level of public concern about crime there is real uncertainty as to what steps need to be taken to bring down the nation's crime rate. I would suggest that a lot can be learned with respect to this question by studying the career of a famous Kansas City, Kansas Police Chief, Boston Daniels.

Boston Daniels joined the KCK Police Department in 1945, and in 1970 he was appointed the Department's first black Police Chief. He ordered a number of steps that helped fight crime in KCK, but two, in particular, are relevant to our nation's ongoing crime crisis. First, he stressed the importance of good relations between the police department and the community. He told the officers under his command that if they were to do an effective job in fighting crime it was essential that they had the support of the community.

Second, in his years on the police force, he showed great skills in de-escalating tense situations. This is a skill that is quite relevant in the aftermath of the tragic death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. This tragedy led to demonstrations all over the country--and in a number of cases these demonstrations escalated into being full-scale riots in which people were killed and property was destroyed. In light of all of the violence in our cities since Mr. Floyd's death, it is clear that a great deal can be learned by studying Chief Daniels' de-escalation tactics.

The national crime surge that began in the final months of 2019 shows no signs of letting up -- in the first six months of 2021 preliminary studies show that there was about a 22% increase in homicides over the levels in the first six months of 2020.  So, it would be a good idea for those in positions of authority both here in the KC area and on the national scene to study the lessons from Chief Daniels' career as a police officer.