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Mayor Supports Election This November To Return Local Control To Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department

062520 Quinton Lucas and local faith leaders by Lisa Rodriguez.JPG
Lisa Rodriguez
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas stood with local faith leaders as he announced a push to return local control to the Kansas City Police Department.

A proposal backed by metro faith leaders would put before voters the question of bringing KCPD under local control for the first time since the 1930s.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said Thursday he supports an election in November that would start the process to return the Kansas City police department to local control.

“We have heard the community’s demands for an accelerated effort to explore the issue of local control—and today we’re taking decisive action to provide our electorate an opportunity to weigh in on this issue,” Lucas said in a press release.

“Decisions about the future of public safety in our community should be in the hands of our voters. I look forward to hearing from the people of Kansas City on the best path forward."

Lucas said he would introduce the ordinance before the full city council on Thursday. The city would still need to go to the state of Missouri to get authorization to return the police department to local control.

In a press conference on the steps of City Hall, Lucas thanked Black Lives Matter protesters and Black Clergy members who presented a list of demands to increase police accountability and brought the discussion of local control to the forefront.

"We need to find a way that we build a police department and build a community where there's trust between all sides, where we are able to solve crime... and frankly, where people of all races, including Black men and women in Kansas City, feel safe. Not just safe in their communities but safe in police interaction," Lucas said.

The move comes one month after the nation was convulsed by the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of a Minneapolis policeman after he was placed under arrest. Since then, protesters across the country and in Kansas City have been calling for an end to police brutality and more accountability from local police.

Kansas City currently has a highly unusual setup for its police department. The department gets its funding largely from the city of Kansas City, but it is not directly controlled by the mayor or city council as other departments are.

Instead, since the late 1930s, it has been under state control and the governor appoints a five-member board to oversee it. Mayor Quinton Lucas is part of that board. The police chief reports to the board, not to the city council or to the city manager.

Read KCUR's "FAQ: Why Kansas City Doesn't Have Local Control Over Its Police Department And How That Could Change"

Over the years there have been periodic calls to return the department to local control, in line with the way most big-city police departments are governed.

Supporters say local control would be one way to hold the police department accountable and more directly address the city’s serious violent crime and homicide problem.

Emanuel Cleaver III, who was among several local Black leaders who stood behind Lucas as he spoke, said he hadn't seen a movement like this in his lifetime.

"I'm extremely hopeful and believe that we're going to see significant change," Cleaver said.

Cleaver said local control could open the door to other reforms — particularly the establishment of an independent police review board that would handle police complaints.

Pastor Ronald Lindsay of Concord Fortress of Hope Church in south Kansas City said it's time for Kansas City residents to have a voice in the debate.

"I think that this is a transformative moment to rethink what community is and what being engaged in a health community and culture really looks like," Lindsay said. "It's hard work, it's ugly, but it's absolutely necessary."

Still, local control remains a controversial proposal.

Opponents fear that it would make the police department vulnerable to political interference. And local control has often been opposed by the Fraternal Order of Police in Kansas City.

Lucas said while Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith was informed of Thursday's announcement, they had yet to sit down and talk about it.

On Thursday, several groups applauded the mayor’s announcement. The Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, or MORE2, said it was pleased with Lucas’ support of a ballot measure this year to garner voter support.

“When we started on this journey some five years ago, MORE2 recognized the need for local control was long overdue,” Kiku Brooks, co-chair of its board, said in a press release. “Local control will put our citizens in a position to determine where and how our money is being used and will push for increased accountability and transparency in our police department."

MORE2 is recommending a seven-member board with someone from each of the six council districts, in addition to the mayor.

Lynn Horsley is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley

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