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Local Control Of Kansas City Police Department Off The November Ballot After Mayor Asks For Delay

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Julie Denesha
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Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas looks on as Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith announces plans to provide police with body cams.

The proposal would have asked voters whether they want to start the process of bringing KCPD under local control for the first time since the 1930s.

Kansas City voters will not weigh in this November on local control of the police department after nearly 80 years of oversight by a state-appointed board.

A ballot proposal put forward by Mayor Quinton Lucas would have given voters a chance to decide if they want the current governor-appointed board of commissioners overseeing police, a model led by the mayor and city council, or some other local governance structure.

But on Tuesday, Lucas asked a city council committee to wait to approve the ballot language, meaning the question won’t be finalized before a deadline this week.

“The goal there being that we can have more discussion both on it as a legislative priority in connection with our other legislative priorities,” Lucas said.

Lucas said he thought the city needed more time to determine whether to pursue the issue through their lobbyists in Jefferson City or take an approach similar to what the city of St. Louis did in 2012 — through a statewide vote.

“It would be important for us both on this issue and all of our other issues to make sure that we're giving [people] the adequate time that they need, the adequate opportunity for public discussion, review, discourse, etc,” Lucas said.

The push to change the governance structure of Kansas City police came after the nation was shaken by the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

Since then, protesters across the country and in Kansas City have called for an end to police brutality, more accountability from police and a national reckoning on racial justice.

Residents pushing for local control argue the current governance model only serves to protect police and shield them from scrutiny.

Still, a successful vote would have merely established local control of police as a priority for the city. The actual process of gaining local control would take much longer and involve approval from the state legislature.

The City Council can still pursue local control of police without a public vote. Under a resolution proposed by Councilman Eric Bunch, the city would bypass the public vote and establish local control as an ongoing priority. He says the city could take a firm stance on the issue, rather than waiting on a local election.

“To say, as a Council, yes or no, we want to make local control a legislative priority,” Bunch said.

He acknowledged that trying to achieve local control through the Republican-controlled state legislature would be an uphill battle.

The committee delayed a vote on Bunch’s resolution as well.

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