Kansas City, Kansas, mayor dumps police critic from law enforcement board
Mayor Tyrone Garner removed Rick Behrens, a longtime social justice advocate who spoke out against the actions of former police detective Roger Golubski, from the Law Enforcement Advisory Board. Garner appointed Behrens just a year ago.
Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Tyrone Garner has removed a prominent social justice advocate from a law enforcement advisory board, another episode in the long-simmering tensions between local government, police and the community.
Garner sent an email to Rick Behrens, senior pastor at Grandview Park Presbyterian Church, saying he was no longer assigned to the Law Enforcement Advisory Board, last week — just a year after Garner appointed him.
The 15-member advisory board was created in 2006 under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and was meant to resolve problems of racism and bias complaints made against the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department and the Wyandotte County Sheriff's office.
Garner told KCUR that KCKPD Chief Karl Oakman, Sheriff Daniel Soptic and District Attorney Mark Dupree requested Behrens’ removal. But each of them denied that, saying Garner had not consulted them on his appointment.
Behrens has long been an outspoken critic of the police department and a leader in MORE2, the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity. Behrens has often spoken at rallies and vigils organized to protest the police department’s reluctance to address the claims of past racist, sexist corruption by former KCKPD Detective Roger Golubski. Golubski now faces federal charges of rape, kidnapping and assisting a sex trafficking ring.
The board's creation came after a particularly troubling incident. In November 2005, 20 white Kansas City, Kansas, Police officers broke up a Black teenager's birthday party, allegedly beating and pepper spraying the teens while using racial and sexual slurs. In addition to the agreement with the Justice Department, the board is also required under one of the city and county’s Unified Government ordinances.
Behrens said he had been working to make the board more active and move it away from being the “rubber stamp” it had been since 2006. Before 2022, there is no record of the board giving advice of any kind to the police or sheriff, Behrens said.
“The reality is that this board hasn't done anything for 16 years and when it started to do something, you cut the head of the snake off,” Behrens said.
Garner said the challenges to Behrens' appointment were “insurmountable.”
“It was problematic for me when I'm getting calls from the criminal justice system basically indicating that they did not feel like they could be part of the Law Enforcement Advisory Board agenda because of the direction and some of the communications and some of the things that that they didn't feel really were conducive to building and improving police-community relations,” he said.
According to the UG ordinance that created the board, its 15 members are made up of one appointee each by the 10 Unified Government board commissioners and three appointees from the sheriff. The chair of the Commission on Human Relations and Disabilities is a permanent appointment. And the mayor's appointment is the board chair. The ordinance is mum on just how long each appointee will serve.
One of the sticking points appears to be the recent community listening sessions, Behrens said, which he helped organize along with other board members. The meetings were suggested in a past audit of the board and the first one was held Feb. 8.
Despite what Garner said, the three heads of the law enforcement community denied asking him or consulting with him on the Behrens appointment.
Dupree was the lone law enforcement leader at the Feb. 8 meeting, held at the Beatrice Lee Community Center.
"District Attorney Dupree did not, has not and will not ask for anyone's removal from the board," said Jonathan Carter, his spokesman.
Oakman said the mayor does not consult with the department on his appointees or on their removal from volunteer committees.
"The mayor has made it quite clear that his decisions are his alone to make, and this one appears to be no different," Oakman said.
Soptic, the county sheriff, said he has no control over who Garner appoints or removes from the board.
"One of the responsibilities I have is to continue to find ways to build community engagement and trust with our community," Soptic said in a statement. "In order to accomplish that, I will continue to work together with Chief Oakman and Mayor Garner in their efforts that share the same goals."
Irene Caudillo is an advisory board member and president and CEO of El Centro, which provides educational, social and economic services for Hispanic families. She said she was surprised by Garner’s move but that it’s his appointment to make. Caudillo, who was appointed by Soptic, said she wants to talk to him about just what the board is trying to do.
“I want to open up these lines of communication so it’s not us vs. them," she said. “That never was the intent.”
Still, Garner’s actions raise questions for her about the process for board appointments.
“There’s a little bit of concern with, ‘OK, well, am I next?’” Caudillo said.
Garner has already found a replacement for Behrens. He said he will soon announce the appointment of a person who is “impartial, independent, neutral” who will reopen lines of communication between the board and law enforcement.
“I don't want to get ahead of any announcements, but I can say the person that that I have identified is a well-respected person in this community that has dealt with the police and the community for years,” he said.
The remaining listening sessions are on April 12, June 14, and August 9.