KCPD body cameras are a go, but local control of the police department is still up in the air

“Frankly, [local control] has worked for us for some time overall. But given what we are seeing now, it begs the question why are we the only one in the country with this model.”

$2.5 million raised for KCPD body cams; local control studied

By Kathy Feist

As a result of protests during June to end police brutality toward unarmed black men and women, Kansas City raised enough money to fund body cameras for police for the next five years and has raised the question of localizing the police department. 

Over $2.5 million was raised to acquire body cameras for the Kansas City Police Department. The DeBruce Foundation led the donation with $1 million dollars while other businesses and philanthropic organizations raised an additional $1.5 million. 

The $2.5 million will be used to acquire and  fund the body cameras for the next five years, according to Tye Grant, President of the Police Foundation of Kansas City. Thereafter, the costs will be absorbed by the City. 

Grant says an additional $500,000 is needed for training, video storage, and other costs. Further donations can be made through the Police Foundation website at https://policefoundationkc.org/.

“It’s been an honor to be a part of this and it appears that many in our community feel the same way,” says Grant. 

The use of body cameras is one of several demands made by activists. Another is the local control of the Kansas City police department. It has gained some traction and may possibly be put up for vote in November. 

The State of Missouri has had control of the Kansas City police department since the dismantling of the corrupt Pendergast machine around 1939. (Interesting note, the KCPD had been controlled by a governor-appointed board from 1874 to 1932.) Since then, a Police Board of Commissioners, consisting of five local individuals, is appointed by the governor. Kansas City is the only city of its size to be run by the state. 

“Frankly, it’s worked for us for some time overall,” says Sixth District City Councilman and Mayor Pro-tem Kevin McManus. “But given what we are seeing now, it begs the question why are we the only one in the country with this model.”

“I think [local control] just provides a more direct line of accountability for the police department. It would allow us to have more input on how money is spent, the policy of policing, and addressing the institutional issue of racism that we see exploding throughout the country,” he added. 

On Friday, June 5, the City Council  approved a resolution that asks that a public safety study group be formed to investigate different governing models and review the pros and cons of local control. 

“Anytime you put something as a vote before the people you want to make sure there is a lot of community buy in,” says McManus.

Mayor Quinton Lucas  introduced an ordinance on June 25 to include a ballot question on local control on the November election ballot. But the vote for local control would have to be put before the voters of Missouri, a procedure which St. Louis followed  in 2012 to successfully gain control of its police department. 

Currently St. Louis’ police department is not exactly a shining example of local control. In fact, one St. Louis legislator introduced a bill earlier this year to return control to the state, due to an increase in crime in certain districts, lack of authority, and a slow bureaucracy. “We feel the police department is now less responsive because they no longer answer to anyone, a committee, the state legislature, or the governor,” Rep. Chris Carter said in a press release.

One Kansas Citians who is not in favor of local control is Don Wagner, President of the Police Board of Commissioners. 

“There’s no reason to change,” he says. “It is a system that works well. ” 

 Wagner says the board, which includes the mayor, meets monthly plus an additional six times a year as needed. All appointed members go through a review process by the state. 

He says there is also a cost savings in that the state attorney general defends lawsuits against the department as well as other means of support by the state.

“The main thing that’s important is that we have political independence from city politics and city politicians,” he says. 

The citizens of Kansas City will soon have a say. The City Council’s study should be completed by September, according to McManus. 

Other oversight measures under consideration:

  • The Kansas City Police Department to reverse its policy of not sending probable cause statements to the relevant County Prosecutor’s office in officer involved shootings.
  • All officers involved shootings and all major use of force complaints to be sent to an outside enforcement agency, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for independent review.
  • The Kansas City Police Department to provide weekly updates to the City Council to inform the public about the Department’s ongoing community engagement efforts.
  • The Kansas City Police Department to review its use of tear gas and other projectiles and determine ways to further restrict their use, and to report within two weeks to the BOPC. The BOPC will provide a policy update proposal related to tear gas and other projectiles at its next scheduled meeting.
  • The Kansas City Police Department to make clear that whistleblowers seeing misconduct within KCPD have a codified process through which they can report complaints about other officers to the Office of Community Complaints and the Board of Police Commissioners.






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