KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Some faith-based leaders in the Kansas City metro recently received firsthand experience in the world of policing and the use of force.
Ahead of a seminar for law enforcement and nearly 40 religious leaders hosted by the Lenexa Police Department in early February, two pastors participated in simulated training exercises that were shown and discussed at the event.
In one simulation, a religious leader encounters an armed man during a mock traffic stop. While he's trying to talk down his suspect, the man fires his pretend weapon into the van, hitting and killing an innocent victim.
"I was thinking, I have to shoot him. But, then, do I shoot him in the leg? If I shoot in the leg then he can kill me still, and we’re talking about I need to shoot him in the chest," Mark Davis told the crowd about his experience.
This exercise and other simulations showed how quickly situations can escalate for police, while exploring how officers are forced to make split-second decisions to neutralize a threat to protect themselves and others.
Still, Virgil Glenn, pastor at Grant Chapel in Wichita, said many African Americans believe police are more likely to see Black men as threats.
"I’m not afraid of the police, but I understand that they have those split-second decisions," Glenn said. "And, what if they make the wrong decision, and I don’t go home to my wife and my daughters?"
Fairway Police Chief David Brown said the goal of the seminar — prompted by the 2020 death of George Floyd, who died while being detained by Minneapolis police, and the ensuing protests — was not to judge, but to understand what's happening in such situations.
The thought process was that churches, temples and synagogues are at the heart of many communities, making them an avenue for police to reach the public to talk about reform and address misconceptions.
For police like Lenexa Police Capt. Bret Ruston, addressing concerns is part of the healing process.
"If you notice the situation or you bring a complaint to me that is something anywhere related to what you’re talking about, as an organization we fully investigate it," Ruston said, "and if there’s something that we need to address, we will."
Meanwhile, another part of the seminar looked at videos of police involving use of force that can quickly go viral online.
"We are by and large often influenced by what we read and see on social media," Brown said, "or maybe by what we read and see and hear on the news, and often that isn’t the full story."
And, while they didn't tackle specific incidents that have made national news, police encouraged pastors to understand why use of force is sometimes necessary, in the hopes that they could take the information back to their congregations.
"Well, we are the largest group in those communities," Clint Hall, a retired pastor at Westbrook Church, said. "And it’s important in this discussion when we hear some of our parishioners talking about police that we be sure they’re getting the right information."
After attending the event, several faith-based leaders told 41 Action News understanding the basic training behind the badge helps them see use of force in a different light.
"I’m so glad that I came today, and I'm walking away with understanding how fast reaction happens," Glenn said. "I’m glad to know and see and look them in the eye and see them in a non-confrontational situation where I can humanize them and they can humanize us."
He also said he would recommend the seminar to his congregation.
As for how often force is used?
In 2020, Lenexa police responded to 36,421 calls for service, resulting in 2,231 arrests. Of those, force was used in just 2.24% of those cases, or 0.13% of all calls.
Compared to the national average, use of force occurs in 3.5% of all arrests, or 0.24% of all calls.
The Lenexa Police Department will host another use-of-force seminar from 5:30-9 p.m. on April 28.