Kansas police officers, community members and social justice activists joined together to walk for change at the department’s “peace walk” event on Saturday, March 26.
The event signals a new era in policing for the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department and comes after newly appointed Chief Karl Oakman promised to increase community engagement and listen to the community’s concerns about policing.
Oakman hopes events like this will help reduce crime and build bridges with community members.
Around 200 community members and activists turned out to join members of the police department for the peace walk.
“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.
The walk began at the parking lot of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Officers prepared lunches on the grill and handed them out to participants before walking a half-mile down Washington Boulevard and 5th Street.
Some important members of the walk included Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Tyrone Garner, District Attorney Mark Dupree, UAW Local 31 staff and members of the local NAACP chapter, along with representatives from other activist groups.
Oakman hopes to reduce crime through a threefold strategy of community engagement activities, youth academies teaching anger management, conflict resolution and avoidance, as well as establishing a real-time online crime center.
“I really wanted to let the community see that the police is here to work with them. Rather than just talking, I wanted to show it,” Oakman said.
Oakman, sworn in last June, promised to implement reforms to the department that has been embattled with controversy over the years.
According to KCUR, the FBI has investigated the department for corruption for decades. An investigation last year also focused on accusations of rape and sexual coercion from a retired detective of 35 years.
Mata Townsend, the communications coordinator for Groundwork Northeast Revitalization Group, was at the walk.
“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.”
Mata said her husband was a victim of police misconduct. She is hopeful that the department is changing for the better.
“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 instituted several external and internal changes, including changing the logos on police cars to communicate that the department is trying to regain trust.
In addition, the chief has made internal adjustments to prevent departmental racism and bias, including offering leadership training for sergeants and captains. The training will be taught by federal officers and is based on the “Color of Law” curriculum.
Members of the Justice and Equity Coalition in Wyandotte County also were at the event and urged the chief to listen to the community by further restricting use of force by police.
“The old saying is it takes a village,” DA Mark Dupree said. “And I believe that’s the same philosophy we have to have concerning our criminal justice system and public safety.”