Thursday, August 28, 2014

UG looks to increase diversity for KCK police, fire departments

By NICK SLOAN, nick@kansascitykansan.

KANSAS CITY, KAN. ----- The Kansas City, Kan., Fire Department recently welcomed 42 new firefighters.

Not one was African-American.

For Unified Government Mayor/CEO Mark Holland, this is a concern that should matter for Wyandotte County.

Holland and the Unified Government Board of Commissioners held a special meeting Thursday evening to talk about the lack of diversity in Wyandotte County's public safety departments.

According to the Unified Government, 55 percent of the population of Wyandotte County is either Hispanic or African-American. Yet, 77 percent of police officers in Wyandotte County are white and 87 percent of firefighters are white.

"My simple goal is because Kansas City, Kan., leads the metro in diversity, I expect our public safety to lead the metro in diversity as well," Holland said. "We need a replicable model."

Holland said he contacted the U.S. Department of Justice about the situation and has developed a task force filled with local community members about the matter. The task force is expected to come up with a plan by April 2015.

Holland said the task force will attempt to discover some of the barriers that may prevent a more diverse police squad or fire department.

Also looming over the matter is the situation in Ferguson, Mo.

Holland, along with Kansas City, Kan., Police Chief Ellen Hanson, said Ferguson was a reminder of the importance of the relationship between the police department and the community.

"All of us have been touched by the crisis in Ferguson," Holland said. "That tragedy exposed the disconnect between the community and law enforcement."

Hanson said she feels the KCK Police Department has a good relationship with the community, particularly the minority community.

"We feel really good about the relationships we have with the community," Hanson said. "We have ramped up our contact with the minority communities."

Hanson said members of the KCK Police Department have taken part in nearly 600 community meetings during the year throughout Wyandotte County.