by Debbie Coleman-Topi
Area police agencies are responding to recent, nationwide violence against officers by taking extra precautions and implementing new protocol to ensure officer safety.
Riverside Police Chief Greg Mills told the board of aldermen at a meeting last week that the department has implemented a new policy designed to increase officer safety during calls. Whenever possible, officers will, instead of riding alone, share their patrol cars with another officer, he said.
Mills implemented the new guidelines last week after Kansas City, Kan. police Captain Robert David Melton was shot and killed when he responded to a call of a reported drive-by shooting.
The local act was the latest in a string of violence directed at officers throughout the nation.
“You can't help but wonder about this if you're a police officer on the street,” Mills said in an interview after the meeting, adding that he hopes the step will allow Riverside officers and their families to live with less anxiety about the inherent risks they face.
As for the duration of the practice, Mills declined comment other than to say “We won't do this forever…”
Riverside Mayor Kathy Rose said she applauds the new practice and believes it provides a measure of the worth of Riverside's 20 officer force.
“It's a shame this is the world in which we live…but our officers are like family,” she said.
Meanwhile in Platte City, Sgt. James Tharp of the Platte City Police Department said that the department has a long-standing policy of officers waiting for back-up before leaving their vehicles during a call. However, he said recent events have caused department leaders to reiterate and even emphasize that policy.
Because the department is small, a Platte City officer may not be available as a back-up and, in that case, other area law enforcement agencies are called to assist.
“We all work together,” he said, “kind of like a big team up in this area.”
Platte County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Jeffrey Shanks said he has done police work for the past 24 years and said while all officers are aware of the risks, today's police may even be more vulnerable given the current climate.
He said the sheriff’s department doesn't have enough staff to place two officers in each car, but is working to ensure that all officers who respond to active calls have a backup available.
But Shanks said he believes police agencies in Platte County are especially lucky to work within a community that appreciates and supports them.
He said the department has received cards, flowers, supportive emails and phone messages in addition to verbal thanks from area residents, especially in recent weeks.
“I can't speak highly enough of the area we work in,” he said. “It gives you hope and faith in humanity.”