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Black police leaders in Johnson County discuss trials, triumphs

PRAIRIE VILLAGE POLICE.jpg
Posted at 6:21 AM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 08:06:50-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Many occupations require you to have thick skin, including law enforcement.

Adding that thick layer sometimes means losing other important things, as Officer John Lacy recalled.

“I lost a friend this past summer I’ve known since elementary school. And he said, with everything that’s going on, 'I know you’re law enforcement. I know we’re good, but I can’t be friends with you anymore. As long as you’re wearing that badge.' And that hurt," Lacy said.

Officer John Lacy is the public information officer for the Overland Park Police Department.

Byron Roberson is the chief of police in the Prairie Village Police Department.

They're the first-ever Black PIO and Black police chief in Johnson County.

Lacy said the community has really rallied around him and the department. There are a few notable exceptions, including a phone call he received around five years ago.

“At first I thought it was a compliment, but it was not a compliment,” Lacy recalled. “He said he was surprised to see me in this role. And the reason why he was surprised is because he said I didn’t look like the makeup of Overland Park. In other words, I should be white. I was taken back. It really hurt. I hung up the phone and at that I said, am I cut out for this? I just reached down inside and said you know what, I qualify for this job. I can do this job.”

41 Action News anchor Kevin Holmes sat down with both Lacy and Roberson to talk about their experiences.

“We don’t have too many men and women that apply to be police officers. In order for us to be in the pool of people being chosen to this position, we have to apply and become police officers," Roberson said about being the first Black officer to ascend to such a high law enforcement rank in the county.

He said it's always been his goal to get to where he is now.

Another goal both men have is to help their departments build and maintain stronger relationships with communities of color. Especially after a year that saw tense moments between the two groups.

“We learned that America is hurting, and America is who we are. Racism is real, but it can be defeated, and it has to be defeated inside of our structure first," Roberson said.

Officer Lacy thinks Overland Park is on the right track.

“I would say an A-minus. And the reason why I say that is because we work well with the NAACP," he said when asked about how he would grade the department.

Lacy said his department often works with civic and civil rights groups to deliver messages of unity and equity across all demographics while breaking down racism.

“I truly believe we are an A-minus, B-plus. There’s still work to be done. We’re doing that with our diversity task force, diversity committee we have," Roberson said about how he would grade Prairie Village.

Holmes asked the two men about a phrase often used around Black officers: "Too blue for the community, too black for the badge."

“That’s a saying that’s real because we have it on two fronts. First and foremost, I’m an African American man. Any African American man of my age has had to deal with some type of racism," Roberson explained.

“I’m a Black man. I’m also a police officer. I’m still the same person. You get it from the Black community. My friends are like, ‘How can you be a police officer after George Floyd? After Rodney King? After Breonna Taylor?'” Lacy added.

The past year has made that balance harder.

“This particular year, 2020 hit us hard. It had a lot of different things going on," Roberson said. “Obviously mistakes have been made with a lot of names mentioned. If we make mistakes, there’s no do-overs, and someone may not survive.”

Survival is also why many black parents have “The Talk” with their children. Something the two officers have even had with theirs.

“Everybody knows what that talk is. If you get stopped by police, you keep your hands at 10 and 2. I had that same talk with my son. I had that same talk with my daughter. Cooperate with the police. You just want to survive," Lacy said. "I remember I sat and looked at my father and was like, why are you teaching me this? I’m in the suburbs of St. Louis. I thought I wouldn’t have that problem, but that problem came to me, so I can identify with people protesting. It makes me feel sad because my grandfather had that talk with my father. My father had that talk with me. I had it with my son. When will this talk stop? It’s very frustrating.”