OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — On the court at the Bryant Center is where Omaha Police Department (OPD) Deputy Chief Ken Kanger believes he does his best policing. With his background in playing college football at Northern Illinois and his love of all sports, he uses his athleticism to connect with youth and honor the memory of a fallen officer.
“Been involved with PACE, flag football, baseball, and I really enjoy the relationships that are built with the kids, the families, the community,” he said.
Kanger coaches with Police Athletics for Community Engagement (PACE) and visits kids at schools as well.
“Anything we can do as law enforcement to develop relationships,” he said. “I got a little program lunch with law enforcement where we just pop in when we can to a school over lunch and talk to the kids, throw the ball around and it's a way to develop those relationships.”
He said the interactions on the field are priceless.
“I mean, growing up, if there's a hoop in a neighborhood...that's where all the kids were at,” he said. “When I was playing catch, whether it was my dad or whomever, the conversations are endless. When we get out and play catch with the kids or shooting hoops, that's what we're talking about...school, what are you going to do over the summer? All of those positive things, it has nothing to do with enforcement.”
Kanger wants kids’ first interactions with law enforcement to be positive and certain instances in Kanger's career have inspired him to become more active in the community.
“One of the cases I go back to, that again, inspired me to do more in the community was a four-month-old baby Deondre Robinson Jr. who was shot and killed at four months old over some gang stuff. Families involved, just completely tragic...something that I’ll never forget,” he said.
And become involved in coaching youth sports like one of his officers — who was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2015.
“A lot of it really had to do with Kerrie Orozco and all the stories that came out of her getting out of her car, playing catch with the kids, shooting basketball,” he said.
Since then, Kanger has followed in Kerrie Orozco’s footsteps in an effort to humanize the badge — especially with inner-city kids.
“I can't tell you how many times, with kids of all ages, that they've stopped and asked me questions about officers being involved in shootings,” he said. “Or African American individuals being shot by police officers, especially right now. Social media...all the kids have phones. They know what's happening across this country. They know what's going on here. There's been instances that have occurred here in Omaha that have been directly related with the kids that I engage with and coach and we have to talk about what happened the night before with respect to that and we talk about the ways to make sure that that doesn't happen to them or someone in their family.”
He understands many see a law enforcement officer and assume the worst.
“That's the whole image I’m trying to get away from, because when police do show up, whether it's a traffic stop or whatever, everyone thinks something is wrong, something has to be wrong,” he said. “Even when I go to school and visit the kids for lunch they're like ‘What are you doing here?’ I want to get away from that if we can.”
Kanger wants to focus on destigmatizing the police brutality image, especially after last summer's protests.
“We have a lot of authority, we understand that,” he said. “The responsibilities are tremendous but we have to listen to the community and understand that they were hurting during that time. We were hurting with them because we don't want the profession to go through what it's gone through. There are so many who are doing the right things, working hard and really trying to build the community. Having those conversations and listening is such a huge piece.”
Kanger was one of the first law enforcement officers who took a knee in solidarity with protesters during protests last summer in Omaha. He hopes with actions like those and spending quality time with kids, he can help police-community relations move forward.
“I think we have to lead by example and I won't ask my officers to go out and string a net, or go out and play catch unless they see me do it. That's what I enjoy doing,” he said. “I mean, I have to do office work and administrative things which I enjoy...the investigative piece, I do enjoy that. Honestly, when I can go out in the community and talk to people and find out what's going on, see how we can improve, whether it's affordable housing, employment, whatever we can do to improve...that's my job. It really is more than a job, it's something that means a lot to me.”
Kanger has been with OPD since 1997. He received the Metropolitan Chief's Association Leadership Award and the Kerrie Orozco Award for community service in 2017.
Kanger shared two tweets, honoring Orozco's memory today. She was shot and killed while serving a warrant — hours before she was set to take maternity leave with a new baby.
One of the most inspiring professionals I have had the pleasure to work with but also a friend & tremendous mother, daughter, wife, & overall person. Miss you Kerrie!— Deputy Chief Ken Kanger (@OPDDCKanger) May 20, 2021
E.O.W 5/20/15 #NeverForget #OPD 🙏 pic.twitter.com/5xvbRJr8he
🙏🙏 #NeverForget https://t.co/QA8ofIVPMe— Deputy Chief Ken Kanger (@OPDDCKanger) May 20, 2021
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