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Remembering Boston Daniels; first black police chief of Kansas City, Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A sunny afternoon at Boston Daniels Park in Kansas City, Kansas reveals that space has seen better days.

Chipped stones, cracked sidewalks, and a sign with a broken post causing it to lean to one side honor a man who did his best to keep his community on the straight and narrow.

Daniels capped off a long career in the KCK Police Department when he became the Chief of Police, becoming the first black person to hold that position in the department’s history.

“It was all based on his respect for all citizens,” said Daniels’ great-granddaughter Karen Daniels. “We grew up in our family knowing who Boston Daniels was and the contributions he made to Kansas City, Kansas.”

Those contributions began, in a police officer’s uniform, in the late 1940s when Daniels filled out an application to become a KCK police officer.

“I mean, imagine,” current KCK Police Chief Karl Oakman said. “1947”.

World War II was over, but Daniels was running for the civil rights movement.

Twenty years later, America was rocked by racial strife, but police departments were changing after the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice was released in 1967. Pace-walking, building connections, and other community-based actions were becoming much more common in policing when Daniels was chosen to lead the KCK Police.

“Probably, when you look at it, for a Midwestern city, it was probably progressive and forward thinking in 1969 to have a black police chief,” Oakman said. “You want the community to know that you are there as a police officer to serve the community, not police the community, and that’s what Boston Daniels stood for.”

Karen says her family tells stories of Boston attending a service call and attempting to address the underlying issues that created the call in the first place. When students had trouble getting to school, Karen said Boston would be there to help.

“A lot of people knew who Boston Daniels was,” Karen said. “He visited people’s homes. Single mothers called Boston Daniels fearing not that their child would be arrested but that their child would get the help they needed.

The irony escapes no one that the United States is having the same conversations about policing more than half a century later.

Chief Oakman says police departments across the nation were forced to focus so much on law enforcement during the crack epidemic in the 1980s that many of those community-building efforts were phased out.

It is why Karen is trying to find a way to deal with the damage, including past events that occurred in KCK, and repair the trust in the community by being a driving force behind the effort to fix the park named after her great uncle.

“If we can bring this area together and build some kind of relationship between the citizens and the police, then I think he would be very pleased,” Karen said.

Local funding and federal grants are covering planning, which is underway right now, and construction slated for later this summer.

The new park will likely have a picnic shelter, new sidewalks, renovated entrances, a new playground, more seating, and a Boston Daniels statue, with plaques explaining who he was and what he did to KCK.

“I think it just comes back to being able to remember that legacy and honor that legacy and keep that history alive,” said Angel Ferrara, director of parks and recreation at the unified government. “So, people can come and see it in a tangible way and really identify and put a face on someone’s name and legacy for the community.”

“It will be a stepping stone not only for my children, but for generations of children to come,” Karen said.

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