Leaders of the Lee’s Summit Police Department believe their community-oriented strategy toward law enforcement has built public trust that is crucial to preventing civil unrest.
As much of the nation focuses on developments in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson after a fatal police shooting there, police here have been transfixed by the story as well.
The peaceful and not-so-peaceful protests – and law enforcement’s reaction to them – could play out anywhere, including Lee’s Summit, but local officials believe their community-policing approach could possibly prevent the unruliness that has followed the Aug. 9 shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old.
“We’re very lucky to live in a great community,” said Scott Lyons, interim police chief in Lee’s Summit. “We have a great relationship with not only our citizens in the community but also our community groups. It’s like a fabric. We practice community-oriented policing. We get along. We’re transparent and we’ve built relationships.”
The department’s policy on crowd control and mass-arrest situations is clearly defined, Lyons said, and plans are in place for a prompt and efficient response to civil disturbances. The goal is to safeguard citizens and property, restore and maintain order, and protect the constitutional rights of people involved.
Lyons said the department deals with large crowds in Lee’s Summit throughout the year, including providing a presence at festivals and fairs. Addressing unrest correlates to officer and department training.
“Luckily, we have not had that type of incident here in this town,” he said. “We’ve responded to other cities, but even then that was 15 years ago. That’s something that officers are trained in at the academy; that’s where they first learn the technical part of crowd control. We also have officers that we send away to training.”
Lee’s Summit Police Sgt. Chris Depue agreed that the department’s policy on policing has fostered a better understanding between residents and officers.
“We’ve been lucky that we have never had a spontaneous civil unrest or a riot,” he said. “We’ve had a ton of peaceful protests. We’ve had several presidential candidate visits. All of those require the same amount of planning as an unplanned or spontaneous one. It’s the same amount of planning; you just have more time to plan.
“Peaceful demonstrations could get violent if they go bad, but we are ahead of them because of our planning.”
A number of community leaders in Ferguson have decried a lack of transparency in the officer-involved shooting. Representatives for the victim have demanded police reports, and they’ve lamented the lack of dashboad cameras in police cruisers, which might have shown what really happened.
Most Lee’s Summit police vehicles are equipped with dash cameras. The department is also in the preliminary stages of a plan to install body cameras on uniformed officers as well, Lyons said.
Department policy stipulates that whenever officers have contact with citizens, they have to activate the dashboard camera.
Lyons added that he and other members of the department have been tuned in to the turmoil in Ferguson. The goal, he said, is to learn from the events, which have become an international storyline of militarized police, protest and civil unrest.
“It makes no difference where the incident happens in the United States,” Lyons said. “Law enforcement is always looking for ways to do things better. We always try to take lessons from incidents that happen and then try to look at where our policy is and modify that. We stay abreast of any type of contemporary training and the best practices that are out there.”
Asked if the department participates in a Department of Defense program that has seen local police agencies throughout the country suit up in military gear and use military-style tactics in defusing unrest, Lyons said:
“We do participate in some of those programs that the federal government has, but we’ve not been a big user of military equipment.”