Kansas City Mayor Announces Police Reforms, Pardons Man Who Videotaped Incident That Led To Charges Against Officers
Reforms include the use of police body cameras, outside agency review of excessive force incidents, and probable cause statements when officers are involved in shootings.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas on Thursday announced a series of police reforms in the aftermath of tense protests that have exposed numerous grievances about police relations with the community.
“This moment is not just about an individual protest on the Plaza or in Kansas City, but instead, how we can modernize policing, how we can build trust between police and our communities,” Lucas said at a press conference following an emergency meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners.
The mayor said he was pleased that the chaos and clashes over the weekend, when police deployed tear gas and pepper spray, appeared to be de-escalating to more peaceful demonstrations this week.
“We have continued to see better interactions between the police department and our protesters,” he said. “That is important for us because we recognize that people have a right to protest. They have a right to be heard.”
The police commission's meeting on Thursday was a closed teleconference, which Lucas said was justified because it involved personnel and legal matters. But he said a public police board meeting will be held June 16 where people can make their views known.
Among the changes and reforms approved by the police board:
- Major use of force complaints and officer-involved shooting incidents will be referred to outside agencies for independent review. Those agencies include prosecutors’ offices in the four relevant counties, the FBI or the U.S. Attorney’s office. In the past, that has sometimes not happened. “We will look to establish a firm process of use of force complaints being referred to outside agencies,” Lucas said.
- Probable cause statements for officer-involved shootings will be sent to the relevant prosecutors. Recently, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has raised concerns about Police Chief Rick Smith’s decision to withhold probable cause statements in several police incidents, limiting her ability to file charges and to maintain trust in law enforcement. On Thursday, Baker launched a new website where the public could report police misconduct or excessive use of force. Her office encouraged people to include video and other evidence.
- Clear guidance will be developed for any officer concerned about the actions or conduct of a fellow officer to report to the Office of Community Complaints, which would also go to the police board. Whistleblower protections would be provided.
- At the direction of the police commission, the police chief will conduct a review of the use of tear gas and other projectiles and come up with a policy for the commission to consider. That draft policy should be ready by the June 16 police board meeting. “It’s my view that tear gas and other projectiles should be used only in situations where there is an imminent threat to the life of either the officer or others in an environment,” Lucas said.
In addition, the department will start to equip its officers with body cameras, thanks to $2.5 million in donations.
The police had first announced that donation on Wednesday. Lucas said the cameras should be available before the end of this year. This funding is not enough to equip all officers, but Lucas said it’s a start, and the city must ensure the program is funded consistently, year after year.
The Kansas City Police Department has had a successful body camera pilot program in place since 2016 but had not found the funding.
Brad Lemon, president of the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police, said the union welcomes the cameras.
“The officers didn’t complain to me at all about it. Nobody really had a problem with it by any means,” he said. “We’d done a really good job of just ensuring that (officers’) own personal privacy needs were met.”
Officers who interact most regularly with the public — about 800 in all out of a 1,300-person force — will get the cameras, Lemon said.
As for when the cameras must be operating, KCPD spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina said that policy will probably mirror the one for when officers are in their cars.
Lemon said the FOP supports the cameras because they also protect the officers, because people often remember stories differently while in a stressful situation.
“I want everybody to understand, this isn’t just a camera,” he said. “This is a recording device into your entire life, not just police officers, but the people when we walk into your home. So we have to have conversations about safety and security.”
The City Council is also taking some steps toward police changes, including clarifying that citizens can videotape police incidents without being charged with a municipal violation.
Councilwoman Katheryn Shields co-sponsored that ordinance after she learned that Roderick Reed had been given a municipal citation after he videotaped an incident involving two police officers and a transgender woman last year. The videotape eventually led to the officers being charged with alleged abuse.
Lucas said Thursday that he would go further and pardon Reed, to send a message that “people know they have a right to film police conduct.”
Following the protests of the past week, some civil rights groups have called for the resignation or firing of Smith.
But Lucas said Smith “continues to be the police chief and will continue in that position as we weather our current crisis with protests and also as we continue to address our issues relating to violent crime and the high number of homicides in Kansas City.”
Lucas said he felt some of the arrests of protesters in recent incidents were unnecessary, but overall he has great respect for the city’s police officers. He said the line officers were not the ones making the decisions to deploy tear gas; that was a command issue.
“Those are policy decisions that we will make at the board of police commissioners to correct that and to change that as quickly as possible,” he said.