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Trust Will Bust Crime Cycle: KCPD Chief

Earlene Magee (L) and Sharon Powell-Miller(R) were among dozens engaging with KCPD Major Ron Fletcher.
Photo by Dan Verbeck/KCUR
Earlene Magee (L) and Sharon Powell-Miller(R) were among dozens engaging with KCPD Major Ron Fletcher.

By Dan Verbeck


Kansas City, MO. – There are novel ideas going into place that could remake the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department on multiple levels. One of them is the way violent crime is being attacked. For what may be the first time, criminals will be asked to lend their expertise.

Law abiding residents are getting what's designed to be simpler access to protection. But there is still fear of retribution for turning in a criminal. The distinct direction comes with the appointment of the city's new police chief.

Darryl Forte has a way of disarming an audience. He doesn't talk like police chiefs who've worked the city since days of traditionalist Clarence Kelly in the 1970's.

Forte guaranteed attention when he said to the City Council--"everybody doesn't know this right now. We need to invite some felons to the table." Fore took over in October and he knew how assaults and drug dealing and violent death tore at the city.

Forte has been putting more police where crime is worst, 'hot spots' he calls them. So in part, it was Fort the former homicide detective who sat before the City Council with less than a month on the job to describe a long range panel he would form to fix crime in a new way. And he was deadly serious about getting anti crime help from former convicts- "Some of these people, and I have the ideas in this strategic plan called 'One community, One Vision,' I got ideas from felons out there. They say why don't you do this."

Significant crime activity after this placing of more cops in high crime areas came in half dozen clusters, not all of them good.

Forte was able to tell the council that citizens were starting to be more cooperative, informing on criminals. Councilwoman Jan Marcason heard Forte say there had been six suspected killers arrested in one week. Six arrests. Councilwoman Marcason wanted to know what basis Forte had for comparison. It sounded impressive to her, six suspected killers arrested in a week. Forte replied, echoed by Mayor Sly James, neither knew of that kind of event ever in the past.

But on heels of this exchange, there were six homicides in one weekend. It was stunning because six in a month might be ordinary. One of these crimes was a triple homicide. Critics said the Forte plan didn't work, putting more law enforcers where the violence was. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker didn't agree-- "Would more officers on the street have prevented this triple? Nope! Absolutely not. Sometimes crime plays its way out like this did."

There is one tangible out of the Chief's strategy he calls " one community, one vision," getting people to trust police. Forte put is this way, "if you have a homicide and you have fifty witnesses, and there's not a witness willing to talk with police, we need to look at ourselves. We're not going to blame everybody. We're not blaming the prosecutor. We're not blaming the school district. We're going to do the best we can do with what we have and hopefully people will want to join us." Early in his administration, Fort pledged to take his top commanders and some of their staff to a community center and let the public have a go at them.

No question was off limits.

The first forum was last Saturday. More than 300 people showed up. Two sisters, who asked not to be identified because they're afraid of someone they might want to turn in, were telling Major Ron Fletcher from the East Patrol Division how informants need be protected.

Fletcher listened, nodded and laid out his assessment of their problem--"Can I put an officer as your bodyguard for 24/7, of course not. If you're a witness in a crime and you have concerns, I'm going to let all my officers in your work area know. I'm going to let my community interaction officer know. He's going to come out to your house free of charge and do a security check for you, check your locks, your windows."The pair said they were satisfied. They were surprised he had even listened to them.

Chief Forte says if people in the community can overcome fear of criminals and report them, his officers will make it tough enough on lawbreakers to make crime less appealing.

In the end game, the Mayor says, how well the 'hot spot' plan works will be borne out with time.

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