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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools Police Department as the September 2020 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo shows Officer Magdalena Mumphrey with kindergartners from Lindbergh Elementary School.
At first glance, painting pumpkins with kindergartners might not seem like important police business. However, Officer Magdalena Mumphrey of the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools Police Department (KCKPS PD) knows that making a positive impression on even the youngest students in the district can have a lasting effect.
Having police officers in kindergarten classrooms is somewhat unusual, but so is the KCKPS PD, which is unique in many ways. Its sole focus is on serving its local K–12 school system—the 23,000 students and 4,000 employees, 43 school buildings, and four public libraries of Wyandotte County, which are administered by the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education.
According to Officer Mumphrey, who was photographed painting pumpkins at Lindbergh Elementary School last September, the department interacts with students throughout the system in many roles including mentor, law enforcement professional, and (most important) sympathetic listener. To get to know the kids and build trust, she and her fellow officers engage them in many different activities. “I help with homework, play basketball, and get involved in other activities, which leads to some interesting conversations,” she says.
“I love this job. On the street, you mostly meet kids in difficult situations; here, we really get to know them and grow relationships. It’s important to gain their trust at an early age, and for us to know them throughout their years in our community.”
Says KCKPS PD’s Chief Henry Horn, “Our officers have dual roles and responsibilities. We’re heavily involved in prevention and education strategies as well as maintaining order, safety, and security. We work very closely with school administrators and building personnel to support an environment conducive to learning.”
Stressing that his officers do more than break up fights, Horn said, “We also mentor our kids to keep them out of trouble and the criminal justice system. If they do cross a line, we respond with discretion, working with school administrators and social workers to determine if it’s a school discipline problem or a crime and if the response can be remedial action rather than criminal justice.“
In addition to their police training, all KCKPS PD officers receive training from the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) in areas such as suicide prevention and understanding the adolescent brain. All of the department’s civilian safety associates also receive NASRO training as well as some training in de-escalation and other law enforcement techniques.
To ensure a seamless response to emergency situations, the Kansas City, Kansas, Public School District has adopted the “I Love U Guys” Foundation’s standard response protocol for crisis response and post-crisis reunification, which Horn says works well in a K–12 setting.
The district will soon also become the only one in the nation to fully equip all of its buildings with SafeDefend, an electronic alerting system that allows officials and staff to quickly respond to a crisis. At the touch of a button, it notifies law enforcement and first responders while activating lockdown features.
When asked what accounts for the department’s success in managing the safety of numerous schools, their staff and students, Chief Horn says, “Collaboration, planning, and training together for emergencies is key to our success. You have to review safety plans regularly and have a good action plan.”
An example he gives is that of a child with a heart condition who collapsed one morning. An older sibling alerted teachers, who gave the boy CPR and saved his life. SROs from the high school across the street came over quickly to manage the scene, and the child was raced to the hospital.
“That child is alive and well today,” Chief Horn says, “because there was a system in place.”
In March, when the state of Kansas called off all in-person classes to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Kansas City, Kansas, Public School District set up laptop distribution sites; the police department developed a plan to ensure that pickup and delivery ran smoothly and safely. Similarly, when the district launched a curbside meal pickup program for students on the free and reduced lunch plan, the officers maintained site safety and controlled traffic.
But the duty that the officers most enjoyed, and which also got national press attention, was maintaining security at the drive-in theater where all of the schools’ graduations were held. “We directed traffic and kept watch on things,” says Chief Horn. “Everybody stayed in their cars, but as the graduates’ names were read and pictures shown on the screen, the kids stood up by their cars.“
“We were part of the planning from the beginning,” he adds, “making sure we had a plan to get traffic in and out safely, be ready for any emergency, and most importantly, ensure that participants followed county restrictions that applied to gatherings. For six nights, we dedicated our services to maintaining a safe evening of celebration.”
Reflecting on the role of SROs, Chief Horn says, “When done right, the role of school resource officer is not policing the kids but creating an environment where they can focus on academics. There are always going to be difficulties, but we are committed to serving our students, faculty, and staff with procedural justice, always keeping in mind that the reason we are here is to keep kids safe so they can succeed. If you hire the right people, good things will happen. We look for highly motivated men and women who want to be law enforcement officers and can do great police work but also really like to work with kids.”
Written with contributions from Chief Henry Horn and Officer Magdalena Mumphrey of the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools Police Department.
Sr. Technical Writer
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