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KCK police tout success of driver's education program run by officers

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Posted at 10:56 PM, Feb 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-20 07:26:56-05

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kansas City, Kansas, police officers are closing the gap between teens and police by teaching teens how to drive and interact with police officers.

Teenagers are able to obtain their license for free in a program offered by the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Athletic League.

"This program has been in place for about two years," KCK Police Chief Karl A. Oakman said. "The only one in the country where it's free and [has] police officers actually doing the training. And we’ve seen the results, the fruit of this.”

KSHB 41 reporter Megan Abundis has followed the program from its beginning and shared the voices of those who learned the right way to drive.

“I taught myself how to drive and I figured I want to do things the right way," said one student who went through the program. "I already had issues. I had tickets and I was starting off bad.”

Another teen who completed the program said it gets shy teens out of their comfort zones and is a lot of fun.

"The kids are proud, but I'll tell you this, we are prouder because we really feel this is a program that is fundamentally changing the direction of kid's lives,” said Matt Tomasic with the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Athletic League.

Chief Oakman said youth crime rates are at a historic low in KCK as a result of programs like driver's education.

Now they're getting the attention and funding for the program's next steps.

“There was a whole group of kids that weren’t getting their driver’s licenses, but they were driving to work, driving to school. Some were getting stopped and ticketed and put in the system,” Tomasic said.

Officers know KCK teens face great challenges to get their driver's license.

“When I first started, I was really scared. I was even more scared because my parents don’t have licenses so they didn’t have the experience to guide me through it,” said Jackie Garcia, a graduate of the program.

The police department found 75% of eligible teens in Wyandotte County don't have their driver's licenses, but still drive to work and school.

That means getting stopped by police, incurring fines, court fees and endangering others.

Kansas City, Kansas, Municipal Court judge Karen Wittman sees at least one unlicensed teenage driver in her courtroom every week.

“You can tell they have no idea how to navigate, not only the court system, but a driver’s license,” Wittman said.

Wittman said she no longer sees the same people get in trouble once they have their license.

VOICE FOR EVERYONE | Share your voice with KSHB 41’s Megan Abundis

That's proof for her the program works.

The judge alerted the American Automobile Association about the program's success.

The association donated $26,350 and two nearly new cars for kids to use when they learn to drive.

“The more cars we get, the more people we can have teaching these young people,” Oakman said.

Oakman said about 200 teens are on a wait list to join.

Those waiting also are completing 30 hours of community service while they wait for a chance to learn to drive.

“In an ideal world, we want to give this to every young person in KCK free of charge,” Oakman said.

The department says the money will allow more officers to work at the Police Athletic League.

The goal is to get 200 teens their driver's licenses this year, nearly doubling last year's number.

Wittman said driving without a license results in fines and fees of $150 and another $23.50 in state fines.

If that fee goes unpaid, there are reinstatement fees that cost $120 per ticket.

If those fees are not paid, a person's driver's license will be suspended.

To learn more about the program click HERE.