Despite online rumors and conspiracy theories, let me be clear that the Kansas City Missouri Police Department never invites any person or groups to a demonstration. The KCPD does not sanction any demonstration events. In regard to a protest on Aug. 19, 2017, we never asked for any assistance from any militia group, nor would we.
The sole purpose of KCPD’s presence at any demonstration, rally or protest is to ensure everyone can peacefully and safely exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights to speech and assembly.
Police cannot and will not favor one side over another, no matter how that group may align with our own personal ideals. Officers are only there to maintain peace. As a former Tactical Enforcement commander, I have done this many times. One of the most memorable – and an example of protecting constitutional rights even when we disagree with the message – is when KCPD was assisting the city of Joplin, Mo., after they were ravaged by a tornado in May 2011. A man who supported a group well known for hateful speech came to Joplin, and counter protests from a number of groups were planned. President Obama was scheduled to tour Joplin’s devastation on the same day. Dozens of KCPD officers were trying to maintain peace and order. Due to the building hostility, our officers tried to form a barrier between that particular demonstrator and counter-protestors when several people broke through and tried to attack the demonstrator. My fellow squad members and I tackled the demonstrator to protect him from the onslaught, and then we had to run him out of the crowd surrounded by officers. We undoubtedly saved his life, but ultimately we weren’t there to protect him. We were there to protect the Constitution.
KCPD members will speak with anyone who asks them questions about the safest way to go about a demonstration. A contact is not the same as “collusion,” which some on social media are alleging.
In fact, if police are aware of demonstrations in advance, we have a long-standing practice to reach out to event organizers days or weeks beforehand to give them a point of contact and trade concerns. Some groups even tell us how many people plan to be arrested.
Our policy reinforces what every officer is commanded to do at a demonstration: remain neutral and protect rights, people and property. This is what our policy states:
“A. All citizens have a constitutional right to peaceful assembly and protest. This department has a professional mandate to safeguard and protect all citizens as they exercise their constitutional rights.
“B. The role of law enforcement officers at a peaceful demonstration or strike scene is to protect life and property and keep the peace. Officers must assume and maintain a neutral and impartial demeanor toward the issues of the demonstration or strike.”
You can see the full policy on our web site (the Response to Protest section begins on p. 18).
Note the section that says officers will “maintain a neutral and impartial demeanor toward the issues of the demonstration or strike.”
A recent petition calls for us to cordon off people like militia members at future protests. Our department has a number of practices to maintain peace and order at such events, and we use the minimum amount of intervention and/or force necessary. Commanders were on scene closely monitoring the situation on Aug. 19 to determine whether any greater levels of intervention might be needed. At one point, a confrontation did start between the two groups, and we used a low-level intervention – officers on horses – to separate them.
KCPD will remain as uninvolved as we can to allow for the free expression of ideas. We cannot ask one group to leave a public park or other public area. If two families show up in a park, we can’t tell one to stay and one to leave, and the same applies to protest groups.
Our only goal is to create a safe environment for everyone exercising their rights and for those who may be nearby.
This post was originally published on August 24, 2017 on Chief Smith’s blog.