This is already a professional department. My job is just to come in here and show the direction.
Those were the words of Lynda Hacker-Bristow on Friday, her third day on the job as interim chief of the Platte City Police Department.
Bristow had been announced as the interim chief weeks ago, but her starting date was delayed as the city and the Platte County Sheriff’s Department worked out terms of an agreement for the sheriff’s department to “loan” Bristow’s services to the city for a period of time. Insurance and liability issues took longer than initially anticipated.
But she is now on the job–for a period of up to 90 days–per terms of the agreement. The city will reimburse the sheriff’s department “for the temporary duty officer, additional compensation for temporary assignments of the sheriff’s deputy,” said DJ Gehrt, city administrator, in a recent staff report.
Carl Mitchell, Platte City’s police chief, and Lt. Al Devalkenaere, second in command, are both on temporary reassignment while a third party consultant conducts an evaluation of the culture in the department. That evaluation was ordered after some internal complaints from officers, Gehrt acknowledged. Both Mitchell and Devalkenaere remain on the payroll as the evaluation is being conducted, working from their respective homes. Mitchell is working on emergency management issues and Devalkenaere is making recommendations on department policies, Gehrt said.
“People already know their jobs and my job is just to come in here and be kind of a head, a name. There are some things we want to work on–we kind of want to look at schedules. And training is a big deal with me,” Bristow said. “I want everybody to feel ownership in their own department because the number one goal is the service and commitment we have to the community. And then number two, I want everybody to be happy. If everybody is happy then we’re going to reach goal number one,” she remarked.
Bristow said she already knows most of the officers in the department, because she has trained a lot of them in her previous duties as a senior instructor in the professional development section of the Kansas City Police Academy. She retired from the Kansas City Police Department after 28 years, then for nearly two years has worked for the Platte County Sheriff’s Department.
“This is kind of like the end of my career. I have nothing left to prove in law enforcement. This is my 30th year in law enforcement, I’ve done all I want to accomplish. But this (the opportunity with Platte City) is good. I’m excited about the fact that I can use motivation and leadership skills to inspire the younger officers,” Bristow stated.
“The department has a great reputation. It’s a temporary thing right now. The agreement is that we’re going to do 90 days,” she added. “I’m excited about it.” Asked to pinpoint the number one law enforcement problem in the city right now, she first mentioned animal control, specifically cats. Sgt. Mike Mand, recently named public information officer for the department, confirmed Bristow’s answer of cats being a problem.
“It’s up and down. Citizens are saying they have cats on their property tearing stuff up. Any animals must be licensed and controlled. The law is you must have control of your animal, not necessarily a physical leash, because invisible fencing can be used,” said Mand.
Bristow said she will be talking to other jurisdictions that have had similar problems with cats and other animals.
“People are passionate on both sides of the issue. That’s going to be a unique problem,” she smiled.
Bristow said as a law officer she has a background in child abuse and domestic violence training. She also has instructed officers in the art of verbal judo.
“Verbal judo is the art of effective communication, the art of being able to get others to do anything you want them to do. It’s a way to de-escalate situations,” she said.
“Our key phrase right now in law enforcement across the country is de-escalation training. We’re not as physical and aggressive as we were in the old days. We try to de-escalate things by using verbal communication skills,” she explained. “Putting hands on is a last resort. We’ve been teaching that for the past 25 years.”
She said community-oriented policing, a common phrase used in the field of law enforcement these days, isn’t much different than it was 25 years ago.
“It’s just that in the past 20 years (police officers) have realized they are part of the community,” she said. “Back then it was called doing your job. As times evolved we have acquired names for it.”
Bristow said the most important thing and number one goal for officers of the department “will be to continue to be serving the citizens of Platte City in the professional manner that they have been taught and they have been doing. I just want to assist in that any way I can.”