Council Close to Creating Panel to Study Local Police Control and Gun Violence

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The current KC police headquarters opened at 1125 Locust in 1938, one year before the city lost control of the department.

By Kevin Collison

With Kansas City’s murder rate continuing unabated after a near-record last year, the city is close to appointing a study group to examine the issues of local police control and the effectiveness of current gun violence prevention programs.

A City Council committee unanimously endorsed a plan to establish a five-member panel to again study whether city elected representatives should directly oversee the department, something that hasn’t happened since 1939, and also look at gun violence prevention.

The resolution, which is expected to be approved by the full Council, is modified version of a measure introduced in November by Councilwoman Melissa Robinson, who originally wanted the city manager to review the local police control question.

Robinson said Wednesday the switch to a five-member study group appointed by Mayor Quinton Lucas was a good compromise.

“I’m certainly satisfied that we’ll have a group that will consider the governance status of our policing, it’s a critical function,” Robinson said.

“I’m also happy the mayor in his wisdom included a conversation about preventative efforts to gun violence.

“As a representative of my community, where children have experienced gunfire while growing up and playing and going to parks, it’s something that impacts so many individuals.”

Kansas City Councilwoman Melissa Robinson (Photo from City Hall website)

The panel will consist of two Council members and three other members described as non-city employees with an expertise in matters of public safety. If approved, the group would report their findings by Sept. 30.

Mayor Lucas also wants the study group to evaluate the effectiveness of current gun violence prevention programs “including strategies currently pursued by the police department and other law enforcement partners, as well as social service organizations.”

The decision to reopen the issue of returning the police department to local control after 80 years will be the second time in recent years a commission has been appointed to study local control.

A panel appointed by Mayor Sly James in 2013 narrowly recommended against the concept.

The idea is opposed by police department executives, including Chief Rick Smith, and its union, the Fraternal Order of Police.

Currently, the Kansas City Police Department is managed by a five-member commission appointed by the governor of Missouri. The mayor is the only elected local representative on the body.

Kansas City is the only city in Missouri and the only major city in the nation not run directly by its elected representatives.

At a hearing last month, supporters of the current method described it as a “best practice” and said it has been effective in preventing scandal. They pointed out having local control also has not helped other cities with high homicide rates.

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith

Kansas City reported 151 homicides last year and has been among the top 10 cities in the nation in murders per capita. The city’s overall violent crime rate was 316.7 percent above the national average, according to a report in CityRating.com.

So far this year, the city has reported 21 homicides as of last weekend compared to 14 during the same period a year ago, according to statistics compiled by The Kansas City Star. 

Supporters of police local control said the current method where the governor appoints its management was “undemocratic.”

They believe local control would make the department more accountable to taxpayers and build more trust in the community. The department receives approximately $250 million annually in the city budget.

An earlier version of the police resolution endorsed by the Council Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee included language affirming the city’s opposition to ending the residency requirement for police officers.

A bill before the Missouri Legislature has proposed eliminating residency requirements for police officers statewide.

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, the chairwoman of the Finance Committee, said the language in the resolution was unnecessary, observing the Council already has gone on the record opposing removing the residency requirement.

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