By Paul Thompson
January 4, 2017
KANSAS CITY, Missouri – East Patrol is starting to feel like home for new Commander Jim Thomas.
Now just over a month into his official tenure as East Patrol’s Commander – former Major Joe McHale departed to take over as Chief of Police in Marion, Iowa on December 2 – Major Jim Thomas says that he feels prepared to begin implementing his own style at the division.
Thomas has enjoyed a 25-year career with the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department, spending time at Metro Patrol, Center Patrol, and the Youth Services Unit. Through his significant experience, Thomas has crafted three primary professional values that help guide his decision-making process.
“I take community policing to a different level; it’s about building community relationships. I’ve set what are going to be three professional values: community relationships, crime reduction, and morale,” said Thomas. “We’re humans, and we’re individuals just like them. We do care, and we do have compassion. That’s the thing that I really want to try to bring out in the officers here at East Patrol. It can be a family at a time, or it can be a block at a time.”
Typically when he takes over a new post, Thomas likes to spend a couple of months simply observing the status quo. As he approaches that benchmark in his time at East Patrol, Thomas says that morale remains high despite an uptick in criminal activity throughout the patrol division. The new division commander aims to keep it that way, and building community relationships is one method to accomplish the goal. In an ideal world, Thomas says that he’d like to see his officers building rapport with citizens even when there isn’t pressing police business. That could mean stopping for a friendly chat with a citizen who is raking leaves or attending a neighborhood church service. The end goal is to associate police officers with positive interactions.
Already, Thomas’s guidance has positively impacted area families. At his direction, the East Patrol Division ‘adopted’ four families over the Christmas season, providing them with food and presents to ensure that they, too, had a happy holiday season. By combining these outreach efforts with a renewed focus on customer relations, Thomas thinks that the department can help mend the distrust that exists in some areas between police officers and the community.
“What I’ve encouraged them to do is to not necessarily worry about the number of calls that are out there; handle the calls that you get sent on to the best of your ability,” said Thomas. “That can be hard at times, especially when you have them on a computer screen in front of you.”
Thomas remains empathetic to the plight of an overworked police officer, and he acknowledges that a marked increase in call volume has made the job more difficult. Even as he relays the advice he’s given to East Patrol officers, Thomas catches himself. He understands what some officers might be thinking when they hear command staff issue directives like the one Thomas did in the face of rising crime. Ever self-aware, Thomas deftly shifts his perspective.
“I will say that when you run call to call to call to call, and the only thing you have time to do is grab a sandwich real quick at QuikTrip, it can be frustrating when you have me saying that I want you to be more engaged with the community,” concedes Thomas.
Still, Thomas stands by the importance of following his three core professional values. It’s the best way he knows how to police, and it’s a game plan developed in part from his time observing great needs in the community while at the Youth Services Unit.
“My exposure at the Youth Services Unit changed the way that I knew I was going to police, especially if I ever had the chance to command a division,” said Thomas. “That starts with putting out things that I feel are going to make a difference in the community.”
To be fair, Thomas doesn’t expect to re-invent the wheel after taking over for Major McHale; he praised several of the efforts that were pursued by his predecessor. One initiative Thomas plans to continue are the SURGE operations McHale championed shortly before departing the force. In September of 2016, McHale set up a mobile command post at Independence Boulevard Christian Church (IBCC), instructing his officers to report to the site for direction at any point when they didn’t have an active call. Thomas says that a crime analyst is working now to identify the top three problem areas within East Patrol, and that he’ll use that data to determine the next spot for a potential SURGE operation.
“That’s something that we will continue here. I had a good idea of where he was going with that; that’s something that I like,” said Thomas. “That’s the thing; when we identify those areas that do need police attention, we have to take something to it.”
Another process that Thomas plans to keep is the rolling ‘East 8’ list of the most dangerous properties in the division. McHale created the East 8 list after growing weary of repeated calls regarding some of the most blighted homes in the area. Those dangerous homes are now sent to the city for expedited demolition. One home to make the list, 114 N. Topping, was a popular transient hub that was demolished by the city in December.
“If we have resources available to us, and we have other individuals that want to help us demolish those locations, then yes, it only makes sense to move forward with that,” said Thomas. “The difficult part of that is actually getting them scheduled for demolition. That’s something that (McHale) conveyed to me that was a little bit frustrating. We can’t go out there and tear it down ourselves; we have to wait until that resource is available to do the demolition.”
Thomas also touted the Smart Policing Initiative that was announced in October by McHale and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, as well as KCPD Chief of Police Darryl Forte’s controversial decision to remove the title of Community Interaction Officer (CIO) from popular officers like East Patrol’s Greg Smith.
“The Chief did make the decision to do away with the CIO, but I think what a lot of people missed when he did that was that it’s his vision and his hope that we can have officers like Greg Smith and the way he interacts with the community – and officers like Jason Cooley before him – the Chief’s vision is that every officer should be like that,” said Thomas.
To Thomas, Forte’s decision was actually a ringing endorsement for the type of work being done by officers like Smith.
“I believe that the Chief believed in what those officers were doing so much, that there was a need to extend it to every officer,” said Thomas. “That’s what I was tasked with doing here.”
Thomas thinks the rest of KCPD’s officers will benefit by focusing on community relations, too.
“If you approach everything in life with a servant’s heart, you will be your best self,” he said. “That’s something that I truly believe in. I’ve seen that model work.”
The community will have an opportunity to meet Major Thomas for themselves on January 24, when the East Patrol Commander has scheduled an open house. Thomas said that he’s been looking forward to the chance to hear directly from community leaders.
“It will be January 24 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. It’s going to be more of an open forum,” said Thomas. “I know everyone has busy schedules, so myself and the assistant division commanders will be there and it will just be a meet and greet.”