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Why The Kansas City Police Department Is Spending Its Summer Hanging Out With Teens

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Sam Zeff
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KCUR 89.3
Kansas City police and teens will train this summer at the Boys & Girls club on how to better relate with one another. It's part of several initiatives by KCPD to improve community relations and recruitment.

The Kansas City Police Department is spending its summer reaching out to some of the younger members of the community.

KCPD wants to improve officers' relationships with teens. “Just because a kid lives at 28th and Prospect versus 135th and State Line, a 13-year-old is a 13-year-old," says Deputy Chief Karl Oakman.

When the department gave Oakman command of human resources, he developed a summer Youth Academy, something he'd been thinking about for years.

Call it Camp Cop. "It’s really a fun, interactive week where the kids can learn everything there is about being a police officer in the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department,” Oakman says.

The first of three week-long classes began in June at East Patrol Division on Prospect Avenue, where they toured the crime lab and met with detectives. The teens, who come from all over the area, also watched officers go through a "shoot-don't shoot" scenario at the Police Acadamey in the Northland.

“The most interesting thing would be yesterday when we went to South Patrol and saw the tactical team,” says 13-year-old Darin Faulkner.

But for his dad, also named Darin, the Youth Academy is about cops relating better to young people. “Not every teenager is looking to commit a crime. Not every teenager is looking to get into some kind of trouble. Sometimes they’re just being teenagers,” he says.

It also gives teens a chance to see the police in a different way. Youth interact with cops without the flashing lights or having orders barked at them. "It gives them an opportunity to see that not all cops are bad," says Tina Hinds Booth, principal at Genesis Charter School in Kansas City. "They’re all here to serve us, the people of the community."  Every morning she left a van full of students with the Youth Academy officers.

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Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
Many Saturdays KCPD shows a movie on the lawn at the South Patrol Division.

But KCPD is also hosting a variety of summer activties.

Most Saturdays the department shows a movie on the lawn of the South Patrol Division, near Bannister Road and I-435.

About 150 people came the night they showed the 2017 movie "Wonder."  There was free popcorn and water. Chief Rick Smith was there tossing a football with a few kids.

The department has also joined with the Boys and Girls Club of Kansas City for something called the Youth Police Initiative. “When you identify with a person as a person versus a uniform or a station in life, you can talk and get along better,” says David Smith, president of the Boys and Girls Club.

Smith organized this program. “Simply put, it’s to train police and young people together to break down stereotypes and perceptions and negative images they each have about one another,” he says.

Up to 60 teens and about the same number of cops will go through this training over the summer, according to Smith. The point of the Youth Police Initiative, he says, is to get these teens and police to better know each other.

Both the kids.

“Even if those particular kids aren’t deep into that particular behavior they know somebody who is. Their siblings, their family members are often in that situation,” says Smith.

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Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
The first class of KCPD's summer Youth Academy gets instruction on self defense at the department's Northland Academy.

And the cops.

“So I think even some of our hard cases, potential hard cases, we have are still going to find themselves effected in a positive way because of this program," says Sgt. Michael Lenore who is in charge of the officers. "Whether they like it or not.”

KCPD will hold a total of three Youth Academies.

In the long run, the department hopes all these efforts will boost recruitment of women and minorities.

Right now, though, the point is for everyone to figure out how to better get along.

Sam Zeff is KCUR's Metro Reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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