KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Urban Council, along with several other civil rights organizations in Kansas City, asked the Department of Justice to conduct a civil rights investigation into the Kansas City Police Department on Monday.
Gwen Grant, CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, said during a press conference regarding the possible investigation that since 2019, activists have made an effort to collaborate with the department on reforms, but were shut down.
"We’ve done everything we possibly could to address this matter on, through our community channels. They have not worked,” Grant said.
Grant said in the absence of communication from the department, an official investigation should be necessary.
The main issues pointed out by the activists, which they say make an investigation neccessary, center around communication and transparency from the department, incidents of excessive or deadly force by police officers and investigations into those allegations, community trust, the dismissal of Police Chief Rick Smith and local control of the Board of Police Commissioners.
The board is currently staffed by four people appointed by the governor and the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, making it one of the only departments in the country not controlled by local, elected officials.
In response to the activists’ allegations, the department released a statement to KSHB 41 News saying that they have shared information regarding incidents that could raise civil rights concerns with the DOJ since 2015, due to an official agreement.
In response to the allegation that there is a lack of community trust of police, the department said in their statement that they "take very seriously the quality of relationships and respect between the community.”
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker also released a letter in support of a DOJ investigation, pointing out several areas of concern for her office, which mirror concerns raised by the activist groups.
Among them were the proportion of excessive force and deadly force incidents involving the minority community, the fact that officers facing excessive force charges remain on the force, that there is a widespread distrust that allegations of force by officers are properly investigated and a lack of governance of the department.
“The overall governance of the department, a state board appointed by a governor with little support in our urban community, is deeply troubling.” the letter read. “Kansas City is the only major city in America with no control over its police department.”
St. Louis shifted its police department to local control about eight years ago, and the results of doing so have been mixed.
As part of the call to bring in the DOJ, the activist groups compiled data to strengthen their appeal to have the department investigated.
The findings, they said, back up their claims that KCPD has racist and otherwise harmful practices.
“Our findings were alarming,” Grant said.
According to Grant, the Kansas City Urban League is receiving help from the national organization to push their request to the DOJ. She said they have confirmation that their request was received and they should have an update by early next week.
She said she was “hopeful” the request would be granted, though the department has received numerous requests to investigate local police since the death of George Floyd.
The full list of organizations that showed in support of the investigation includes the Urban League of Greater KC, the NAACP chapter in KC, Citizens to Abolish Poverty, the Spirit of Freedom Foundation and BLAQUE-KC, among others.