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New commander: ‘Law enforcement must adapt’
Major Chip Huth takes over KCPD North Patrol


by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark reporter

A man driven by integrity and compassion will serve as the new major of the North Patrol Division of the Kansas City Police Department.

Major Charles "Chip" Huth has been selected as the commander of the North Patrol Division located at 11000 N.W. Prairie View Road in Platte County.

"I am very excited about this opportunity," said Major Huth. "This is where the rubber meets the road. I have been to so many community meetings this first week and have meet so many people that want to help the community. From economic development to people organizing block watches, it has been exciting. I am looking forward to learning and working with my officers to make the community safer."

In his younger years, Huth was faced with many complex challenges that eventually took a toll on the entire family structure. His father was a career criminal, landing the family in "precarious situations" that often required the family to pack up and move from one area to the next. Home life was often volatile and abusive for Huth and his siblings. His only sense of safety and security was when there was a police presence around.

Huth entered the foster system, where he bounced around between his birth family and foster families before landing on a farm in Iberia, Mo. near the Lake of the Ozarks. There, he carried out laborious farm work until entering the United States Army at age 17 to serve as a military policeman.

While in the U.S. Army Reserves, Huth was activated to carry out a mission in Desert Storm, as well as carry out a special assignment. Hull served a total of eight years in the armed forces.

By the time he had ended his time of service, Huth had already begun to plant roots in Kansas City. He landed a job with the Kansas City Police Department, where members of his family, including his brothers, were employed.

Hull spent decades on the SWAT Team Division of the Kansas City Police Department. Over the course of a 26-year career in law enforcement, Huth executed over 2500 high-risk tactical operations.

He earned a bachelor's degree in multi-disciplinary studies from Grantham University and an associate’s degree in police science from Park University. He serves as a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association.

In 2004, he was called upon to lead a SWAT team plagued with the highest number of complaints in the department.

"Because of the nature of the work, they were garnering a lot of complaints," said Huth. From a public relations standpoint and a community service standpoint, it was a tense situation for the department.

During his 10-year tenure there, the SWAT team became a bit of a national success story. The SWAT team tripled its seizure of drugs and guns, while totally eliminating community complaints. The SWAT team went eight years without a single community complaint on a search warrant service, said Huth.

Despite the fundamental change that occurred under his leadership, Huth insists the real credit lies with the "dedication of a group of really passionate men."

"We understood that people aren't responding so much to what we are doing," said Huth. "They are responding to who we were being while we are doing it. We need to change the way we see. Change our mindset about the way we deal with folks. Separate the person from the problem. Be really hard on the problem, but treat the person with compassion.”

Huth is resolute that same philosophy will also have an effect on the way people perceive law enforcement today. Rather than being seen by the public they serve as mistrusted or out to get them, Hull would like police to be seen as a pivotal part in the community, woven into our society to accomplish the common goal of crime prevention and maintaining public safety.

"What we need to understand is that we need to work with the community to build trusting relationships," said Huth. "It is those relationships that will be leveraged to instill safety in our community. When people feel like they can trust us as police, they are going to share information. When they feel like we are going to do our best to help them, they will be willing to take personal responsibility for their safety."

He points out it is not feasible for law enforcement to be everywhere in a blink of an eye. The North Patrol division serves over 72,000 residents across 85-square miles. On any given day there could be 15 to 20 patrol officers.

He says the relationship between police and the people they serve is the lifeblood of law enforcement.

"We are out-numbered thousands to one, police to citizens" said Huth. "We really need that cooperation and I feel it is our job to engender that cooperation by being proactive in reaching out to the people and building those relationships. We can't sit back passively and wait for it to happen."

Huth views each public encounter as an opportunity to either build or destroy the relationship between law enforcement and citizens they serve. He acknowledges that just one negative split-second decision by law enforcement has the potential to wreck the relationship with the community they serve and attract negative attention.

"With the speed and connectivity of our operating environment," said Huth, "if I go out here today and have a negative contact on the highway, then that information is going to spread coast to coast and perhaps around the world in a matter of a tweet."

Law enforcement must adapt, said Huth.

"We have to make an adaptation in the way we do business. I think we have been slow as a culture to change and we have paid for it a little bit," said Huth.

Racial and ethnic biases have plagued law enforcement agencies across the country. Fortunately, Kansas City has not seen the racial divide affecting places like Ferguson. Hull credits local efforts aimed at opening the lines of communication between officers and the public.

"It is great to see why maybe an African American woman who lived through the 1960s has the perspective she does," said Huth. "And why a young cop, who is 20-years-old, has the perspective he does. As they start talking, they start seeing the mutual purpose and the commonality there and some of the other differences start fading away."

Huth said engaging the community to identify any problem is key.
"It's about dialog," said Huth. "It's about honesty. It's about the police actually owning our history and acknowledging some of the things we did wrong. I think that goes so far in making strides in the right direction."

Still, Rick Smith, who was recently sworn in as the 45th police chief of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, has doubled the community interaction officer program. The Kansas City Police Department is actively recruiting new applicants from local police training programs.

Attracting new recruits
Law enforcement is still struggling to attract and recruit new applicants into a career involving police work.

There is no single reason that can explain why it has become more difficult. From the physical, educational and training requirements to the fact that law enforcement is a profession under increased scrutiny, Hull acknowledges it has become a unique challenge facing law enforcement today.

Chief Smith has made it clear to law enforcement they will beef up recruiting efforts to locate new applicants. Huth said he is hopeful the police department will step up its game to attract new recruits.

"I am confident, especially with the reorganization the chief has done, that we are going to be able to impact our numbers, but again you can't talk your way out of a situation that you behaved your way into, so it is going to take us some time to build up the troops," especially with retirements and attrition, Huth said.

Chief Smith has challenged all police commanders to also assume the role of a recruiter.

Huth said the police department will continue to tackle this uphill battle.

Physical and mental dangers
Police officers have the ability to use force. Most force used by law enforcement is non-deadly force. Despite the discretion to use force, officers themselves can be subjected to physical danger and mental stress nearly every time they put on the uniform.

Huth said what makes police officers most safe is not when police officers are fully armored, but when officers are surrounded by people in the community that trust law enforcement. Huth said he is in awe when he sees examples of this in the news, where private citizens come to the aide of officers in situations where they are endangered.

Huth also acknowledges that training is key to safeguarding officers from on-the-job injuries.

"The police officers in Kansas City, Mo. are some of the best trained out there. I think our statistics and safety record bear that out," said Huth.

"We have begun to build programs around employee wellness," said Huth. “We have started to understand that we have to take care of our own so they can take care of others."

Scarecrow factor
Comparisons have been made between police officers and a scarecrow, because of the idea that a police officer's mere presence will deter crime, similar to how a scarecrow will deter pests from invading a garden.

Perhaps a police presence can prevent some crimes from occurring but it doesn't necessarily dissuade others from simply waiting out police, like suspects who allegedly committed a smash and grab at an airport hotel.

"New York City has approximately 40,000 police officers and they still have crime," said Huth. "If you go down to Town Square you see groups of police officers on every corner and they still had somebody run a car through the crowd and hurt folks very badly.”

Huth said studies on crime prevention vary depending on a variety of factors. He believes establishing a sense of trust with the community can produce better results.