NoVA merges military and police work

By Joe Lambe

Kelly Sapp, now a police officer with the No Violence Alliance, trained in the villages of Afghanistan and Iraq.

His work with probation and parole “clients” is not so different from drinking tea with village elders and the Taliban, he said.

Sapp, 46, says you establish trust and then find out what is needed to change behavior. It can be building a school or digging a well or taking out bad guys.

From 2007 to this summer, the former army ranger and then former KCPD officer worked with an elite civilian unit on asymmetrical warfare.

If the problem involved a sniper, bomb cell or whatever, he and soldiers would stay until it was fixed and meanwhile he taught special forces tactics.

He returned to the police this summer on condition he work with NoVA, he said.

Its approach that started this year links law enforcement and social services and police intelligence to attack violent crime.

That “focused deterrence” model dates to Boston’s Operation Ceasefire that cut youth homicide there by two-thirds and has been used successfully by many other cities.

But Sapp said the model is actually rooted in old military tactics.

So far NoVA has not cut homicide rates, but Sapp said it has made great progress in less than a year and will make far more.

“I know it can work,” he said. “I’ve seen it happen.”

He started in June and his first job was to get tough and get attention. By now he has cleared the backlog of warrants and more by getting 190 probation and parole absconders arrested. Their pictures recently came down from a wall in the cubicle where he works.

“The next step I would like to do,” he said, “is visit parolees getting out of prison and coming back to Kansas City.”

He will offer to help them with social services and more.

He and his team already meet with such clients in their homes and keep in constant contact.

As with village elders, he said, it is all based on trust, communications and relationships.

He visited one client who had not been showing up for GED classes and found the man working overtime to support his three little girls. He also found the girls sleeping together on the floor on a bedbug invested mattress.

Social workers found three mattresses and box springs and got rid of the bugs. The man returned to class.

In another case, a client needed a ride to take his GED test but in his tough neighborhood was afraid to be seen happily getting into a police car.

So Sapp showed up in uniform, handcuffed the man and tossed him into a cruiser. He took off the cuffs at the testing center and let him out.

“He passed,” Sapp said, “whatever it takes.”

Sapp and his team also try simple logic against a profession that generally leads to prison and often to sudden death.

“What are you going to do when you’re 65?” he asks. “You going to be slinging dope when you’re 65?”