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Kansas City Police Adopt New Protest Policy Following Last Summer's Demonstrations

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
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Police line up along Mill Creek Boulevard with protesters standing along the boundary of Mill Creek Park on May 30, 2020.

The new policy will prohibit officers from using so-called less-lethal weapons to disperse crowds engaging in "First Amendment-protected activities" like public protests.

Kansas City police officers will limit their use of tear gas and so-called less-lethal weapons in an effort to reduce confrontations at public protests, according to a policy approved Tuesday by the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners.

The “First Amendment-Protected Activities” policy would also require officers to create a buffer zone between police and protesters and would prohibit officers from intentionally escalating tensions, according to the Associated Press.

The proposal comes after officers faced criticism for their use of tear gas and dispersion tactics during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests on the Country Club Plaza.

A Kansas City police officer was charged early this month with misdemeanor assault for spraying a juvenile in the face with pepper spray during a protest last May.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said he supported the board’s work to improve the policy over the last 10 months.

“I commend you for continuing to do this work and I think that this is a much stronger policy that reflects, actually, public comment, interaction with our lawyers and others. And I think this is a positive change for the department,” Lucas said.

The board also approved an order to purchase an additional 475 body-worn cameras at Tuesday’s meeting and approved an Internally Recorded Digital Media Records Policy.

Under the new policy, officers will be required to wear body cams during all contacts with the public and retain non-evidentiary video for 180 days. The policy’s adoption follows calls for reform from city officials and anti-violence advocates. The department faced criticism for delay in purchasing the cameras despite having grant money do so.

The department said on Twitter that "body cameras already have been deployed in two patrol divisions, and we hope to have all patrol officers outfitted by spring."

The board also discussed the rising number of homicides and non-fatal shootings across the Kansas City area this year.

There have been 39 homicides in 2021 compared with 35 in 2020, according to the police department.

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith said the numbers mirror rising homicides nationwide.

He said that 37 cities have seen an 18% increase in murders in the first three months of the year compared to the same period last year.

“Even though Kansas City is fighting our battle here, as a nation we are fighting this together. Violent crime has seen an increased surge in the last year, and it appears, especially locally with our own department, that continues,” Smith said.

Smith faces calls for his dismissal, most recently from a large regional council of the Presbyterian Church, which called for his removal last week, stating the group is “not anti-police, but anti-process.”

Pastor Darron LaMonte Edwards of Getting to the Heart of the Matter, an initiative by the police department and faith leaders to combat violence in Kansas City, said at Tuesday’s meeting that he objected to the church group’s statement and supported the police reform process in Kansas City.

“What's happening now is that we are at the table. This, to my knowledge, has not happened in a very long time. And now that we're at the table, we expect to see changes in industry, we demand to see changes in the street,” Edwards said.

Edwards said he had talked with Heartland Presbytery over the weekend and they “wanted to recant what was widely publicized.”

Rev. Dee Cooper, interim executive of Heartland Presbytery, said the group stands by its call for Smith’s dismissal.

“We support the different avenues through which these much needed reforms are being accomplished, we affirm the different groups working hard on them and we know much more work needs to happen,” Cooper said in the group’s letter.

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