OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass scrolled through black and white pictures from the 1960's civil rights movement on his desktop computer. Douglass said seeing the images on TV while growing up in Olathe, Kan., shaped his views about law enforcement.
He is celebrating his 40th year in law enforcement as he approaches the 17th anniversary of his appointment as police chief. Referring to images of Birmingham, Ala., police officers confronting peaceful demonstrators with attack dogs, Douglass said, "I never wanted to see that happen to a police department that I was involved in."
He said when Overland Park created a K-9 unit, he imposed a stipulation that they never be used for protests or crowd control. He points with pride to plaques on his office wall from the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that cite him for contributions to civil rights.
Douglass said the biggest changes he's seen in his 40 years were the makeup of the police force and the use of technology to fight crime. He said when he started on the OP force in 1973, most of the officers were not college educated, only one was African-American, and none were women. Today, a college degree is a prerequisite, and the department employs 28 African-American and 50 female officers.
Douglass said he is thinking about stepping down in the near future, but stopped short of saying when that would be.
"I don't know what it's going to be like waking up in the morning and not feeling totally responsible for the city or for the people who work here," he said, "It's going to be strange."