Grant KC local police control next year
The Kansas City Star
Kansas City voters made it clear this week they could support local control of the Kansas City Police Department. Now it’s up to elected officials and the police to make it happen.
More than 60 percent of those voters approved Proposition A, a successful statewide ballot initiative that will end state domination of the St. Louis Police Department in mid-2013.
When that happens, Kansas City will be in the untenable position of being the only city in the nation without local control of its police agency.
Tuesday’s vote was a crucial step in pushing this effort forward in Kansas City.
For years, some politicians and business leaders have been reluctant to mess with the state-appointed police board, claiming that’s what the people want. But that same argument was made for many years in St. Louis, too, until that city held a nonbinding referendum a few years ago and 70 percent of voters backed local control. Now, Kansas Citians have endorsed that same outcome.
It’s critical for Mayor Sly James to work with the City Council, the Fraternal Order of Police, citizens groups and local business leaders on the next steps.
The Kansas City police will want to make sure their pensions are protected; that was one of the hang-ups for the St. Louis initiative for many months. But Mayor Francis Slay and others eventually came to an agreement that placated the police and made sense for local taxpayers. Kansas City needs to learn other lessons from St. Louis. The new local control package here must include a strong civilian review board for complaints against the police. And Kansas City’s plan must make it clear who appoints and removes the police chief.
So how can all this happen without going through the costly statewide initiative petition that St. Louis used, with the help of multimillionare Rex Sinquefield?
The Missouri legislature has the power to end state control. That could happen as soon as the 2013 session — if Kansas City has a mostly united front in Jefferson City represented by the mayor, local lawmakers and key civic leaders.
Unfortunately, this week James said he thinks any effort to obtain local control won’t happen until 2014. “We’re going to work to try to get there,” added James, who endorsed Proposition A.
The mayor said it will take time to deal with concerns that City Hall and its politicians can’t be trusted to competently oversee the Police Department. He also wants to see whether the city can learn anything from how St. Louis puts local control into action.
However, as even the mayor acknowledged, not everyone is going to favor local control. Old habits and ways of doing business die hard. He’s not going to get 100 percent buy-in on the plan from some opponents. This initiative must move forward, for the good of the community.