Kansas City police chief against change to city control of police

By Joe Lambe

Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté on Tuesday argued that the police department should remain the only one in the nation under state control.

“My mother taught me from an early age that it’s O.K. to be different, and it this case, it’s more than O.K,” he said in a long essay on his blog.

A board of police commissioners – made up of the mayor and four Kansas City residents appointed by the governor – has run the department since 1939.

A task force appointed by the mayor is studying whether that system should stay in place or not.

For the first time Tuesday, Forté made his position clear.

He noted that the current system has worked from 1874 to 1932, and a period of “home rule” from 1932 to 1939 was rife with corruption under the Pendergast machine.

Some say the department needs to be under local control, he said, but it already is.

“The issue really in question is city control of the police department,” he said, “not local control.”

He asked: “Wouldn’t anyone want those charged with enforcing laws to be as free from political influence as possible?”

“Police should be able to devote their resources to the areas of greatest need as determined by data and community input, not where an elected official requests officers to be for personal or political reasons.”

In other cities, he said, police departments go into limbo every election because the whole direction of their departments could change with the whims of new politicians.

“My peers in charge of other major city police departments envy the way KCPD operates,” Forté said.

He attacks the argument that it is unfair that the city has to fund police but has no say in how the money is spent.

Police, fire, public works and other departments have to put in budget requests and the city council decides how much they all get, Forté said.

He argues there would be no savings in human resources and information technology staff by consolidating city and police operations.

The city would need more staff to handle 2.000 more people, he said, and if not, “then they have too many people.”

He said the city would also lose $1 million a year from the state’s legal defense fund and pick up costs of defending civil lawsuits filed against police, which are now handled by the Missouri attorney general’s office.

St. Louis police went to city control over the weekend, leaving Kansas City as the only department of its kind.

“Perhaps our form of governance is a model other police departments should follow,” Forté Łsaid. “Let’s not follow the so-called leader – let’s be the leader.”

Former Police Chief Jim Corwin, and Karl Zobrist, former police board president, have also argued for retaining the current system.

At a public forum, Corwin said a return to city control would trigger “a political bloodbath over the department’s resources.”

Pat McInerney, a former police board president and co-chair of the commission studying whether to recommend structure change, told the Kansas City Star the group will soon hold three public hearings.

They expect to finish work by year’s end, he said.

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