After discovering the Kansas City Police Department was using video of George Floyd’s murder in training exercises, councilwoman Melissa Robinson immediately introduced a resolution to the Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee to call on the Board of Police Commissioners to permanently remove the video from KCPD’s training curriculum.
The resolution passed out of committee and will go to the full council for a vote. If the legislation passes, it’s slightly more than a request for the change to occur, since under Missouri law, the Board of Police Commissioners functions as an independent body. Ultimately, the BOPC has the total power to decide if KCPD discontinues the use of the Floyd or any other videos involving real-life death of citizens at the hands of police.
After Robinson drafted the resolution, KCPD removed the Floyd video from its training curriculum, but Robinson still wants to be sure any training videos involving fatalities caused by police are removed unless the department has consent from the family involved.
Robinson and other community activist groups supporting the resolution including MORE2, Black Rainbow and the Urban League of Greater Kansas City agree that the videos are not acceptable training mechanisms.
“I believe that, especially with the George Floyd video, the whole world was traumatized by that,” Robinson said. “I believe that African-American officers having to see that is adding additional trauma and I’m concerned about the desensitization.”
KCPD Captain Scott Simons said officers in training review videos like Floyd’s death to discuss what went wrong and how the officer could have acted differently.
“I find the videos to be incredibly valuable, mostly because [of] the timeliness,” Simons said. “The videos are just flooded out there. You can’t go anywhere anymore without seeing them, so they need to be talked about. We need to utilize them. We need to improve.” He also added that because the videos are in the public domain, they’re easy to find and at a huge cost-savings.
During the hearing on the resolution, Simons told the committee that the department never uses the videos to demoralize but to teach about points of intervention that could have prevented a death or excessive use of force incident.
“It’s still concerning to me because I think you’re taking away so many training opportunities that are going to allow officers to continue to develop their training and better handle situations in the future,” Simons said at the hearing.
Simons is asking council members to visit the department to see how they use videos in training before they vote on the resolution.
Still, activists say KCPD is showing a lack of sensitivity and disrespect for Kansas City’s Black community.
“It is a lack of sensitivity and empathy for the pain and trauma that has been felt around the globe and right here in Kansas City, and it further erodes community trust in the police chief,” said Gwen Grant, president of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. “The chief, never under any circumstances should have authorized the usage of this video in training.”
McClain Bryant Macklin, director of policy and strategic initiatives at the Health Forward Foundation supported the resolution via written testimony. Macklin wrote, the trauma Black officers may experience from watching the videos could negatively impact their ability to perform their duties.
Recent research has also shown that people of color can experience “race-based trauma,” or mental distress similar to posttraumatic stress disorder when viewing police violence against Black communities. In addition, people of color report higher rates of stress, frustration, anger and anxiety in response to coverage of police violence.
“African Americans know this very deeply that we are always being used for training exercises and improving things like science without our consent,” Robinson said. “So, I feel like the issue with George Floyd and where we are – the fact that (the video) was even utilized gives me great cause of concern by our KCPD.”
Jazzlyn Johnson is a Report for America corps member based at The Community Voice covering Kansas City’s African-American community.