Family Of Kansas City, Kansas' First Black Police Chief Want Improvements To A Park That Honors Him
Boston Daniels was chief of the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department for only one year.
But he is remembered not only as the city’s first black police chief, but for distinguishing himself as a cop who worked his way up through the ranks over 25 years.
“It is safe to say there has never been another police chief quite like Boston Daniels,” the Kansas City Kansan wrote in an editorial on May 17, 1971, marking Daniels' retirement.
The year before Daniels died in 1995, the city recognized him by dedicating a small park in his name at 8th Street and Quindaro Boulevard. Residents remember the greenspace as a safe and inviting place to play during the 1950s and '60s. But as the community lost businesses, population and resources, the park fell into disrepair.
The effort to revitalize Boston Daniels Park mirrors efforts up and down the Quindaro corridor to breathe new life into this once-thriving community in northeast Kansas City, Kansas.
Karen Daniels, 54, great niece of the former police chief, is working with her cousin Anthony Hodges to renovate the park.
"Everyone in the community thinks this is a good idea," Daniels says. "While we know the city likes the idea, it has been been kind of a frustrating experience working with them."
They've submitted a proposal for $20,000. They've received $2,000 through a special fund administered by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, but now feel they've run up against a wall.
“This park is in the heart of the northeast side of the city and we want to make it nice again,” says Anthony Hodges. He and Daniels have had a fair at the park to raise funds and public awareness of their efforts. They're having regular meetings with officials from the Unified Government.
Who was Boston Daniels?
Boston Daniels and his wife of more than 50 years, Rosemary, never had children of their own. He was one of six kids from an Arkansas family. His father was a preacher. He never finished college. Before coming to Kansas City, he worked as a Pullman porter and later as a ditch digger and gas station attendant. During World War II, he built planes.
He joined the Kansas City, Kansas, police force in 1945, later telling the Kansas City Star it had been a lifelong ambition to be a policeman.
In the quarter century he worked his way from a recruit to chief, Daniels became known for his non-violent approach to de-escalating conflict, the respect and concern with which he treated people of all ages and races, including alleged perpetrators, and his affable, good-natured personality.
At six foot two and more than 200 pounds, he had an imposing presence but an unassuming style. According to newspaper accounts and an autobiography preserved by the family, he believed use of force was a last resort and prided himself on rarely pulling his gun and never killing anyone. He believed cops shouldn't take advantage of their weapons or their badge.
He made a particular effort to reduce crowds who tended to gather around violent crimes and reportedly had a record of solving more than 5,000 crimes in his time on the force.
His legacy as an investigator stands out. In a 1970 Kansas City Star profile, Daniels said he establishes rapport with an interviewee by “having a Coke … and a couple of cigarettes.”
“We talk about other things in his life, trying to get him at ease,” he continued. “After this, I talk about the case, go away to do something else, and then return again to the case.” Daniels said he learned a lot about what suspects were thinking by looking them in the eye and watching their Adam’s apples to see when they swallowed.
Media accounts recall Daniels as “the nemesis of shoplifters on Minnesota Avenue.” He would regularly dress up as a farmer, a railroad engineer, even an everyday shopper, to blend in with the crowds while guarding downtown shops. The disguises, he said, allowed him to more effectively spot thieves. Downtown merchants reportedly called City Hall when Daniels was promoted because they wanted him him back on their floors.
As police chief, Daniels ushered in a series of changes to improve community releations. He added two substations to serve the growing population.
“This will give us broader coverage,” Daniels told the Kansas City Kansan. “Better coverage is the object.”
Daniels increased the size of the force, enlisted the support of a citizens' radio watch made up of 50 private citizens with radios in their cars. He got a helicopter to deal with traffic issues and criminal chases. But he may be best remembered for the ways he was able to de-escalate volatile situations. Daniels was asked to share his strategies with universities and police forces across the country.
A model for our times
Anthony Hodges and Karen Daniels say strained relations between police and communities make this an appropriate time to elevate their great uncle's legacy.
“The community and police are at a disconnect,” Hodges says. “(My great uncle) was hands-on and built relationships so people in the community knew who he was. We’ve got to get back to where there’s not so much distrust of police in the community.”
Daniels said the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department told her they will feature Boston Daniels in a special exhibit in a new police museum to go up next year.
"A nice park named for a former police chief sends a message that the community wants to work with police to erase crime," Hodges says.
The park sits at 8th Street and Quindaro Boulevard, just east of Our Lady and St. Rose Catholic Church, across Quindaro from Ms. R's Soul Food, a popular restaurant. Two sets of cracked concrete steps lead up to a grassy oval circling a playground with a few pieces of equipment. One of the two rubber swings is not hooked on straight. There's a small, winding slide. The only place to sit is one green metal bench.
"We’d just like more tables and an updated playground, more seating that will attract people,” says Daniels. “This would be a great place to have your lunch at noon for people who work at City Hall right down the street.”
Early on in their conversations, Daniels says city officials told her they had access to funds and expertise in planning the project. It was never clear to her exactly to what they were referring.
Unified Government assistant county administrator Gordon Criswell says the city is behind the project and understands its value.
"We want to support it but just can’t write a check right now," he says. “Our parks department doesn’t have the resources to invest, so we’re trying to get the family to slow down and do some planning.”
Criswell says they're urging the family to start with architectural and design plans that they can then take to potential funders.
“When you have a community that’s been disinvested in for many years it’s more challenging to create reinvestment,” he says. “(The city) has not forgotten the north end (of Kansas city, Kansas); the question becomes just how do we support it in a way that’s sustainable and creates a tax base and jobs.”
Wyandotte County Commissioner Gayle Townsend, who represents the 1st district, says a proposal from the family came too late in the current funding cycle to consider but says the Unified Government is interested in improving the park to create an asset in the community. She says she remembers Boston Daniels and his wife Rosemary as “pillars of the community.”
“He was always well-respected and more importantly, respected others,” she says. “What he did was real community policing.”
Karen Daniels hopes the official support will turn into action soon.
"This part of Quindaro Boulevard and northeast Kansas City, Kansas, is our 18th & Vine," she says. "We need to pay attention to the history in our community."
This story is part of a special series about Quindaro Boulevard and surrounding neighborhoods in northeast Kansas City, Kansas. It’s the culmination of several months of reporting in a community engagement project called Here to Listen, which has taken KCUR to communities throughout our listening area.