Peace walk shows KCKPD has new direction: ‘Not your grandfather’s police department’ anymore
An event Saturday with the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department encouraged police and community engagement, something residents say demonstrates the new chief is listening to them.
Karl Oakman was sworn in as Kansas City, Kansas Police Department chief early last summer, and since then he’s made a lot of changes and made good on a promise.
Late Saturday morning, Oakman met with about 200 community activists and residents for a short “peace walk,” something Oakman said has been a priority since he was sworn in.
He said the purpose of the walk was to bring residents and police officers together and kick off a handful of crime reduction initiatives, which will debut in the spring and summer.
“I’ve always been a person based on action, so I thought it was important to see it visually, the community and peace coming together,” Oakman said.
Oakman was joined by about 200 people for the short walk to the parking lot of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, where officers grilled and passed out lunch to participants. Kansas City, Kansas Mayor Tyrone Garner, District Attorney Mark Dupree, members of UAW Local 31, and of the local NAACP chapter, as well as other activist groups were among the crowd.
According to Oakman, his plans for crime reduction will happen in three phases: First, through community engagement and activities; second, various youth academies that teach young people anger management, conflict resolution and how to avoid retaliation; and lastly, a real time online crime center.
Oakman said the biggest component to successfully reducing crime is being sure not to erode community trust, something he acknowledges is already strained.
The KCKPD has a longstanding reputation of corruption among the city’s Black and brown communities. In November of last year, KCUR uncovered that the FBI has been investigating KCKPD misconduct for decades. One of the most notable investigations centers around retired detective of 35 years, Roger Golubski, who is accused of raping, preying on and coercing Black women into performing sexual favors and providing fabricated testimony for cases he was working on.
Golubski’s decades of gross misconduct came to a head in 2017 during the exoneration of Lamonte McIntyre, an innocent Black man charged for a double murder he did not commit. Golubski’s investigation led to McIntyre spending 23 years in prison. In a lawsuit filed by McIntyre’s mother, Rose McIntyre, she alleges Golubski coerced her into sex then framed her son when she later denied Golubski’s advances.
Mata Townsend, communications coordinator for Groundwork Northeast Revitalization Group and a longtime resident of Kansas City, Kansas was at the event Saturday. She acknowledged the pain she has seen her community go through.
“If you kick a dog long enough, it’s really not going to be responsive,” Townsend said. “And I think that this area has just been kicked on and stomped on and ignored and neglected for so long and it just breaks my heart.”
Townsend said as a teenager, her husband was a victim of police misconduct. But she said she feels like with a new police chief, things are turning around.
“With the right head, the body will follow. And I think that was one of the things we didn’t have, was the right heart and the right head in leadership,” Townsend said. “So you start with that, and then you find people to follow you, and it’s like collecting lint. Every now and then you’re gonna pick up a piece and it’s gonna stick.”
Oakman has taken several measures to rebrand the KCKPD. He said since he started, he changed the slogan and logos on police cars to communicate to residents the department is changing and regain trust.
“It’s a work in progress. What I like to say is we’re going to do everything we can to convince the community that this is not your grandfather’s police department,” said Oakman.
The changes are not only external. Oakman said he has made multiple adjustments to how the department works internally. He said to address and prevent racism and bias, there will be leadership training over the summer for sergeants and captains. One of the training sessions will be taught by federal agents using The Color of Law curriculum.
“We want to serve you, not police you,” Oakman said.
The community is noticing changes. Deryl Wynn, a member of the Justice and Equity Coalition in Wyandotte County said so far, Oakman has stuck to the promises he made when he was named as the new chief of police in May of 2021. At the time, Oakman said one of his main goals for the department was to strengthen the relationship between the police and community to reduce crime.
“We actually interviewed the chief early on in his employment and he said he was going to do something like this, and we said ‘We’re going to hold you to it,’” Wynn recalled. “Well, he followed up and this mass of people here have gathered because we trust the chief.”
Wynn said the Justice and Equity Coalition urged Oakman to listen to the community, and change the way people are detained, by adopting measures such as the 8 Can’t Wait campaign, which centers on restricting and tracking the use of force by police.
Dr. Evelyn Hill, also of the Justice and Equity Coalition, said there is still a lot of work to be done, but for once it seems like there is a leader who is listening to residents’ demands.
“We still need a lot of healing from things in the past, but things are focused on moving forward and building better relationships,” Hill said.