Law enforcement across the country has been forced to confront violent acts of terrorism, and with the shootings at Jewish sites in Overland Park just a year ago – officials realize we’re as vulnerable here as anywhere.
A bill currently waiting to be heard on the floor of the Kansas House is aimed at helping police intervene in incidents across the Missouri-Kansas state line. The bill is known as the Critical Incidents Bill, named for the type of incidents it applies to — those that could cause serious injury or loss of life.
Missouri already passed a very similar bill that gives police in Missouri or Kansas legal protection should they be the first to intervene in an crisis on the opposite side of the state line.
Kansas Rep. Willie Dove says here in the relatively low-key and quiet Midwest, we may’ve been lulled into a false sense of security.
"We are in an area where we believe we’re a soft target for terrorism," he says.
Dove’s bill gives Kansas police authority to make an arrest on the other side of the state line, gives legal protection in the case of accidental injuries, and protects an officer's eligibility for worker's compensation.
Dove and others realize the issue of police overreach is particularly sensitive right now. But in underscoring the importance of a bill like his, he identifies places where such collaboration might be key — Pembroke Hill School, for example.
"The school is on one side of the state line and the parking lot on the other side of the state line," he points out.
Lenexa Sergeant Fred Farris, chairman of the Kansas City Metro Tactical Officers Association, worked with Dove to craft the bill. He’s says the 2007 shooting at the Target at Ward Parkway Center in Missouri is an incident that illustrates why the legislation is needed.
"The first two police officers that arrived were from Leawood, Kansas" Ferris said. "They were there before the Kansas City, Missouri police officers were. Had they located the suspect and taken action or used force they would be scrutinized for whether they should be there."
Farris says because our metro is dense and equally distributed across the state line, collaboration between these two forces is particularly important. What if there were a major incident, for example, at the Truman Sports Complex, The Kansas Speedway, or Sporting KC, he wonders.
"Crime doesn’t stop at the state line and tragedy doesn’t stop at the state line and what we want to accomplish with the legislation is to make sure that law enforcement, like other emergency services in metro, has ability, when asked and under very defined circumstances, to render aid and assistance."
The Kansas Sheriffs Association has been a vocal opponent of the bill. Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning, who is a legislative liaison for the KSA, says as a local sheriff he’s taken a lot of heat for communicating the concerns of sheriffs statewide. They worry the original bill is redundant with existing statutes, but more importantly, that it only takes care of officers in the metro area.
"What about Nebraska? What if help was needed from Nebraska State Patrol to come over to one of those smaller rural towns when they need help?" he asks.
The bill has been tweaked to address some of the criticism, but Denning says a number of sheriffs are still unsatisfied. Also, the changes are not guaranteed until the full Kansas House and Senate pass the bill.
With the impending anniversary of the shooting at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom, both lawmakers and law enforcement are reminded there is some urgency for police cooperation – in whatever legal or legislative form it will take.
This look at the Missouri-Kansas state line is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.
We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them. Become a source for KCUR as we investigate Johnson and Wyandotte Counties.