Crucial questions will decide fate of KC Police Department
The Kansas City Star
Kansas City’s previous three mayors all ran into the buzz-saw of rejection by Kansas City’s Police Department.
In the coming months we’ll find out whether current Mayor Sly James will be treated in the same dismissive way.
It took Emanuel Cleaver four years in the early 1990s to get police officials to finally allow city audits aimed at improving how the agency operated. Starting in 2006, Kay Barnes called for the department to consolidate some functions with the city to save tax dollars; then-Chief Jim Corwin never carried through on major changes. And Mark Funkhouser was the city auditor stonewalled by the police during Cleaver’s first term as mayor.
James recently appointed a citizens group to look into whether Kansas City should finally join the rest of the nation and have local control of its Police Department. St. Louis is the only other city with state control of its cops but, thanks to a statewide vote last year, that city will gain local control in mid-2013.
James wants a recommendation from the commission by October. Assuming and hoping the finding favors citizens gaining control of the largest taxpayer-financed agency at City Hall, James would have to lobby the state legislature for that outcome in 2014.
The panel meets for the second time today. In the months ahead it must examine several aspects of local control, taking into account the interests of Kansas Citians as well as the special interests of the Police Department, which has long staunchly opposed change.
How would police be shielded from political influence?
Many police fear elected officials and others at City Hall would try to tell them what to do. The commission must provide guidance on how to prevent that abuse.
- How could local control improve Kansas City’s high rates for violent crimes and other crimes?
The commission needs to investigate how a more direct connection among police and civic, political and neighborhood leaders in other cities has helped reduce crime there.
- What changes, if any, would be made to pension systems for police officers and police civilian employees?
That’s a huge concern for cops who have lots of money promised to them upon retirement. The commission must deal with fears that City Hall could tap into that money for other purposes.
- How does pay for Kansas City officers compare with other cities?
Has state control kept salaries too low — or allowed them to go too high? A statistically valid survey of comparable departments should help answer that question.
- How would citizens’ complaints be investigated?
The city’s current system hasn’t inspired much public confidence. The commission needs to make sure local control can provide better ways to strengthen the public’s right to address issues with the Police Department.
- Who would appoint the police chief and any possible police board?
Under local control, the powers could rest with the mayor; the mayor and City Council; the city manager, or a locally appointed agency. The commission should review how similar-sized departments operate around the nation.
The citizens panel must stay focused on asking the right questions and eventually giving the public a solid report on how the Police Department should operate.