KC police testing foot patrols in troubled areas

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police are planning to send officers into the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods on foot patrols to help connect with residents as part of the department’s community policing efforts.

The Kansas City Star reported that 21 newly graduated officers will begin a three-month experiment beginning Aug. 1. The officers, members of the current police academy class, will start the patrols after they finish a “break-in” period of training with experienced officers.

Foot patrols haven’t been practiced in Kansas City neighborhoods for decades, but they’re reappearing across the country, including in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle.

“This is community policing,” said Alvin Brooks, a member of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners. “You can’t do community policing from patrol cars.”

The officers will work in pairs from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday, walking through neighborhoods to fight crime and interact with residents. If successful, department officials hope the program could be extended beyond the experimental period.

Police Maj. Roger Lewis said crime data from the last three years will be used to pick the neighborhoods that get foot patrols. Each beat will encompass an area of 15 intersections and about 1.5 miles of roadway.

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City will work with the department to assess the program’s impact, comparing the neighborhoods with foot patrols with similar areas that don’t have them.

“My message to the recruits is that the end of 90 days there shouldn’t be a decent, law-abiding citizen they don’t know,” Lewis said. “And there shouldn’t be a criminal who doesn’t dread seeing them walk around a corner.”

Some commissioners and skeptics have expressed concern about sending rookie officers into some of the city’s most violent areas. But foot patrol officers from Philadelphia, which started its program in 2009, said experience doesn’t matter as much as having the ability to talk to people. The department uses new officers for its program.

“We’re known as the friendlier cops,” officer Timothy Hegarty said. “It doesn’t hurt to be friendly. It goes a long way.”

Hegarty was one of two Philadelphia foot patrol officers who visited Kansas City last week. There are 250 foot patrol officers in the Philadelphia program.

“It’s not pleasant being in foot beat, but it’s effective,” said Juan Santiago, the other Philadelphia officer. He called the assignment tough, but said it has forced him to become a better communicator.

“As much as I don’t like doing it, I’m a better officer because of it,” he said.

The Kansas City officers will drive a patrol car to the neighborhoods, but do most of their work on foot. Deputy Chief Cy Ritter said backup officers who already patrol the neighborhoods will be nearby in cars.

Justin Kirmse is one of the Kansas City recruits who will be on foot patrol. He said he’s looking forward to the assignment.

“We’re the first class that gets to have this opportunity,” he said. “They have a lot of trust in us. That builds our confidence.”

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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