KANSAS CITY — After a year of preparing for one of the biggest events to come to the city in decades, Kansas City police are ready to prove they're as capable as any big-city force of delivering a stellar performance at the Major League Baseball All-Star game.
It's the first time in nearly 40 years the city has hosted the Midsummer Classic, and Kansas City officials have spent several months coordinating with local, state and federal agencies and the U.S. Army to make sure tens of thousands of baseball fans who come to the city will be safe.
A delegation of Kansas City police officers traveled to Phoenix last year for the 2011 All-Star game. And the department tested its security plan at the city's St. Patrick's Day parade and in an exercise in April at Kauffman Stadium, where the All-Star game will be played Tuesday.
"We're a large police department, and we've handled large events before," said Maj. Rich Lockhart, who is leading the Kansas City department's security efforts. "But nothing on this scale. The city is hoping people see how well we've handled this event, and that it leads to bigger events in the future."
Kansas City police have worked with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, FBI, Department of Homeland Security and several other agencies to create its game plan. Lockhart said the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies at Fort Leavenworth, which normally reviews battle plans for the U.S. Army, has examined the security plan and found it to be sound.
"I don't think people necessarily think of Kansas City as a big city," Lockhart said. "People don't understand how well-prepared we are as a police department. I would put us up against any big city, like Chicago or L.A., in handling major events."
Unlike last year's game in Phoenix, where most events were consolidated in a fairly tight geographical area downtown, Kansas City is playing host to activities scattered around town, including in some impoverished neighborhoods where residents say it's best if outsiders are gone by dark.
Bill Bordley, vice president of security and facility management for Major League Baseball, said he's worked with local police for eight months on making preparations and is impressed with the security measures that are in place.
He said the hosting of out-of-towners at youth baseball and softball games in Kansas City's inner-city neighborhoods for the Jr. RBI Classic will not mark the first time Major League Baseball has reached out to a city's urban core.
"It's not a problem or a challenge that hasn't been dealt with before," Bordley said, noting that the 2010 game was in Anaheim, Calif., and youth ballgames were held at an RBI facility in Compton, Calif. "The commissioner makes a concerted effort to reach out to all parts of the community and wants to create a family-friendly environment throughout the city."
Danny Rotert, a spokesman for Kansas City Mayor Sly James, acknowledges that any major public safety problems could hurt the image of a city whose per-capita homicide rate is perennially among the nation's top 10. Still, he said he's confident the city has a strong security plan in place and things will go smoothly.
"It's been a long time since there has been a huge event like this in Kansas City," Rotert said. "We don't want to leave any doubt in anyone's mind that we're capable of pulling off an event of this scale."
If the city needs more pointers on how to keep massive All-Star Game crowds safe, it doesn't have to look farther than St. Louis, which hosted the Midsummer Classic three years ago. Three World Series have been played in the city in the past 10 years.
Capt. Jerry Leyshock, a 32-year veteran of the St. Louis Police Department who has been in charge of the police detail at Busch Stadium for a decade, said pickpockets and counterfeiters pose some of the biggest problems at such high-visibility events.
Leyshock said he hasn't been involved in Kansas City's preparations, but is sure some of the measures in place are the same used in St. Louis and other cities.
"There will be plenty of undercover officers, and plenty of federal support," Leyshock said. "The biggest thing will be to have uniformed officers everywhere. You want a big show of visibility. People should see a police officer on every other corner, if not every corner."
The prospect of a terrorist attack is a given at all high-profile events, he said, but lessons learned since 9/11 have prepared law enforcement to identify threats and respond accordingly.
"In this era, I think we're very sensitive to any potential act of terrorism," the police captain said. "It doesn't have to be the All-Star game."