Board votes to keep state control of city police

A citizen study group on Monday voted 13-12 to recommend that Kansas City police remain the only police department in the nation under state control.

But the panel voted for changes that include adding more members to the board of police commissioners.

A third proposal to stay under state control under the current system did not get one vote.

“It’s a complete rejection of the status quo,” said Councilman Ed Ford, who was on the mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Governance.

Whatever happens now will need a champion to push it in the mayor’s office and backers in the Missouri Legislature, Ford said.

Ford, who voted for local control, said supporters will continue push for that while others will support the moderate change recommendation that won by one vote.

The Missouri Legislature would have to approve either change. St. Louis police recently went to local control after it won a statewide referendum vote with major financial support from a businessman, but Ford said Kansas City does not have that level of financial support.

Under the current system, in place since 1939, the governor appoints four citizens who serve on the board of police commissioners, along with the mayor.

They administer the police department, which gets 46 percent of the city general fund budget.

The recommended change in state control would increase the police board to six citizens and the mayor, with the citizens to be selected among residents within each of the police patrol divisions.

Neighborhood groups could build relationships with police commissioners who represent their patrol districts and city council members would be able to interact more with commissioners, supporters said.

The model also calls for weekly police board meetings instead of the current one or two a month.

Councilman John Sharp, who was also on the commission, voted for the amended state control option.

Sharp, who chairs the council public safety committee, agreed that in years past divisions between the city council and police board were like a “wall with barbed wire on top,” but he said that has changed.

It can change more if the parties work to make that happen, he said.

Former Mayor Kay Barnes, who was also on the commission, voted for local control.

“It allows for the maximum amount of improvements” and other needed changes, she said.

Under their proposal, a board appointed by the mayor – similar to the current parks board – would hire and fire the police chief.

It would be made up of members from each of the six council districts plus a seventh member selected citywide, who would be the chairman.

The board would advocate for police and act as a buffer between them and the city council. The board and police chief would work with the city manager in recommending a police budget to the city council.

Throughout the months of citizen study, the police chief, former chiefs and others have argued to stay with a system that has staved off corruption for decades.

Mayor Sly James, Ford and others have argued for city control over public safety and the police budget, like that of every other city in the nation.

James issued a press release shortly after the vote, saying that the complete rejection of the status quo shows the community is ready to make changes.

He will work with police, the city council and the Missouri Legislature to find a new structure, he said.

The former Marine said maybe it was appropriate the vote came out on Veteran’s Day.

The unofficial Marine motto is “improvise, adapt and overcome,” he said. “To that end, I believe we can bring all parties together to develop the best system for us.”