KC needs local control of Police Department
The Kansas City Star
The Fraternal Order of Police would like to make it clear who runs the Kansas City Police Department.
It’s certainly not the mayor or City Council members, elected by the people. That’s because Kansas City is one of only two cities in the nation (St. Louis is the other) without local control of its police force.
But it turns out that the state-created Board of Police Commissioners can’t always tell police officers what to do, either.
As a recent lawsuit by the FOP indicates, the men and women of the Police Department think they are in a special class. They receive tens of millions a year in public funds for their salaries, health benefits and pensions. However, when it comes to controlling these costs on behalf of taxpayers, the police contend they don’t always have to listen to the mayor, council or even the police board.
The FOP now wants a court to stop a pending pact by the police board and city officials to move police employees into a unified health insurance system with City Hall workers, a positive move designed to save money for taxpayers.
So who’s really running the Police Department? Let’s call it self-rule.
This is no way to operate a $200 million-a-year agency, even one dedicated to preserving public safety. It’s time for local control of the Police Department.
It’s time for Mayor Sly James, City Council members, local state legislators and this city’s business community to work together to convince the Missouri General Assembly to relinquish state control of the city-funded workforce.
And it’s really time to stop paying attention to the Pendergast-era contention, still made by many of the civic elite, that Kansas Citians can’t be trusted to exert influence over their elected officials to provide a better Police Department.
St. Louis officials are way ahead of Kansas City. Mayor Francis Slay and others have been working tirelessly to wrest back control of their department. That effort is expected to pay off this November, when voters statewide decide the fate of an initiative petition to give the city local control.
Fortunately, some crucial voices appear to be ready to move forward.
Police Chief Darryl Forté thinks local control is inevitable.
Mayor James wants to get to a point where there’s less divisiveness between City Hall and the police.
State Sen. Jolie Justus expects local control to eventually happen, but points out she needs to see someone at City Hall leading the charge for it.
Right now no one is working to make it happen as soon as possible. The General Assembly won’t pass a bill this year allowing local control. Instead, everyone is resigned to seeing what statewide voters do this fall with the St. Louis initiative.
It’s especially disturbing that Kansas City’s business community has been on the sidelines of this matter for years.
Top Chamber of Commerce and Civic Council officials often decry some of the spending priorities at City Hall. Yet one of the most essential ways to oversee the use of tax dollars is to have a seat at the table in running the huge Police Department.
Delegating that authority to a state-appointed board has created some of the city’s financial headaches. They include the cost of the currently generous health insurance plan for police and the millions of dollars in past pay raises granted by the police board but never approved by elected officials.
Next year, the friction will grow as the city tries to reduce police pension benefits to protect workers’ benefits for the long-term and to control costs for taxpayers. Are James, the council and business leaders really going to let Jefferson City politicians control that cost-cutting effort?
Looking ahead, if statewide voters approve the St. Louis initiative petition, Kansas City officials could go to Jefferson City in 2013 or 2014 to request that this city also gain local control.
But it’s shameful that Kansas City has remained on the sidelines on this important issue for so many years. As a result, the city muddles along with an antiquated system that doesn’t give residents enough power to improve their own Police Department.