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Kansas City Police Department Faces Coronavirus Outbreak As Mayor Calls For More Reforms

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith announced several officers had tested positive for COVID-19 during Tuesday Board of Police meeting. On the desk in front of Smith is a mask an audience member handed him to wear, which he and some other officers refused to do.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith announced several officers had tested positive for COVID-19 during Tuesday Board of Police meeting. On the desk in front of Smith is a mask an audience member handed him to wear, which he and some other officers refused to do.

At the monthly Board of Police Commissioners meeting Tuesday, some community members said officers refusing to wear masks is just one way the Kansas City Police Department doesn't care about public safety.

A large outbreak of the coronavirus at the Kansas City Police Department has 54 police officers in quarantine and 18 who are still recovering, Chief Rick Smith announced on Tuesday.

The officers are among 131 who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to a police spokesperson.

At the monthly Board of Police Commissioners meeting, Smith said infection numbers have been drastically rising since the outbreak began last week.

So far, he said the department’s coverage and staffing hasn’t been impacted.

“We've managed everything without having to move a bunch of people around, but we're hoping it stays that way. To tell you the truth, we're a little bit concerned,” Smith said. “It's a situation we're monitoring closely, and obviously, daily.”

Speakers at the meeting, who had come to continue their call for Smith to be fired, complained about the lack of social distancing and mask-wearing by officers, despite an ongoing public health mandate. Some pointed out the irony that the police department was announcing an outbreak while most officers at the meeting refused to wear a mask.

“The fact that there's literally just a blatant disregard for our safety while we're in a public safety meeting and they can't even abide by the simple act of wearing a mask to protect the people around us," said Ky Williams, who at one point in the meeting began handing out masks to officers." I think it just speaks volumes more than anything that they could have said in this meeting.”

Meanwhile Tuesday, Mayor Quinton Lucas rolled out another set of proposed reforms of the KCPD at the board’s meeting, an initiative that began last summer after Black Lives Matter protests.

This time, Lucas wants changes to the Kansas City Police Department’s Office of Community Complaints, where he said citizens should find accountability.

Under current policy, the Office of Community Complaints prohibits grievances from anyone under 17 years old without a parent or legal guardian and requires complaints to be filed within 90 days of the incident.

Lucas said he plans on increasing the time limit to two years and removing the age requirement entirely.

“We’re looking at trying to make it easier for people to express their grievances, make it easier for people to get some response back and I think that is the most responsible way that we try to address issues long term,” said Lucas.

If passed, the proposal would also remove notary requirements and allow third party complaints from witnesses who were not involved in an incident.

Lucas also introduced another resolution for police to begin regularly proving crime data reports for a new online dashboard expected to launch next year. This follows a City Council resolution passed in July requiring KCPD to release relevant policing statistics.

Lucas said he hopes the dashboard will increase police accountability and improve community trust with the police.

“I’ve said many times before that any issues with policing are not the result of one officer or interaction, but are due to failure by city leaders to address current needs of our community or rescind outdated laws,” said Lucas. “This dashboard will help identify any trends or areas for improvement to help guide city and police leaders’ efforts to build the best police department for our community and our officers.”

Since the death of George Floyd, the city council hasremoved marijuana possessionas a city violation, created a special administrative court for parking tickets, and launched a review of the city code of ordinances to identify and remove outdated racist language and laws that disproportionately target Black residents.

Speakers at the meeting said more needs to be done beyond these reforms to repair the relationship between the community and police. Many specifically pointed to the failure to fire Smith.

“We’re not going to just go away, we will be a thorn in your side. As long as that man remains chief, those of you who hold elected law elected office. We will tell your constituents and donors exactly where your priorities lie,” said speaker Jessie Rizzo.

Lucas responded to the complaints about a lack of masks, saying officers were adequately distanced from others.

Some speakers also asked for the Office of Community Complaints to be operated independently from the KCPD and the Board of Police Commissioners. Lucas said that would require legislative action from the Missouri Legislature, which he said he would consider.

Lucas' proposed reforms will now be reviewed by committees within the police department before coming back to the board for a vote.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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