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Groups call for local control of KCPD, chief's resignation

Posted at 11:58 AM, Jun 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-03 21:41:46-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Update: June 3, 2020, 8:31 p.m.

After the Kansas City Unity Walk on Wednesday, Kansas City, Missouri, Police Chief Rick Smith said he does not plan to resign.

At a press conference, Chief Smith said he hasn't had a chance to see the calls from the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, the NAACP and More2 for him to resign and had no comment about the calls. He said he does not plan to resign because there is too much work to do.

Original Story: June 3, 2020 11:58 a.m.

The Urban League of Greater Kansas City, the NAACP and More2 are calling for structural reforms of the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department.

The groups held a joint virtual news conference at 2 p.m. Wednesday to announce a call for new leadership at the police department and for local control of the city’s police department.

The groups called for reform of the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department "in the wake of recent homicides of African American men and excessive force at the hands of police in Kansas City."

That reform would include KCPD Chief Rick Smith's resignation as well as local control of the police force.

"We do not believe [Smith] is committed to reform. We believe that Chief Smith is more committed to protecting the blue line of the police department,” Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League said.

Grant said she and others "have no confidence in his commitment, his competency, or his compassion," in addition to issues of accountability and transparency.

In a news release Wednesday afternoon, the groups said they are "very much concerned" about Smith's leadership and the Board of Police Commissioners' "laissez-faire form of governance, which in effect, allows Chief Smith to act unilaterally as the supreme investigator, judge and jury in excessive force and of cer-involved homicide cases."

Grant elaborated on the point during the virtual news conference.

"The Board of Police Commissioners behaves as if they were appointed by the governor to protect and serve the police chief and police officers, rather than ensure that the department is committed to fair and impartial public safety strategies, dedicated to the principles of fairness, equity and accountability and working actively to build bridges that lead to substantial change," Grant said.

Lora McDonald, executive director of More2, echoed Grant's thought, noting that state control of the police department limits residents' ability to affect change.

"There’s no place for us to escalate to while the police are escalating on protesters," McDonald said.

McDonald also drew attention to a video from a Kansas City protest that has gone viral, in which a man is seen being pepper sprayed and arrested while he appears to be on the sidewalk.

"We have a police chief that had the audacity to defend those actions in front of the whole world today. We should be ashamed. We should be ashamed. This is America," McDonald said.

She said Smith's defense of the actions builds on "a pattern of ‘I don’t care, I believe my officers.'"

KCPD has said it is reviewing the incident.

The groups on Wednesday also called for KCPD officers to wear body cameras, and believe Smith stands in the way of that.

"He’s in the way of body cameras and every other reform strategy that we need to execute," Grant said.

Rev. Rodney Williams, president of the Kansas City, Missouri, branch of the NAACP, said George Floyd’s and others’ deaths, in conjunction with a lack of accountability for police departments, has created a “moment of reckoning for our nation’s consciousness," and called for change in Kansas City specifically.

“At the local level, it is especially a reckoning for the Kansas City Police Department. It is crystal clear that the residents of Kansas City, Missouri, will bring an end to the criminalization of black skin," Williams said. "We will hold our police department accountable for their consistent role in terrorizing our community for years. We must have a total and complete reset of policies so that no black person living in Kansas City will ever experience unequal protection under the law in this city.”

Williams also called for a ban on some uses of force, including knee and choke holds.

The groups said KCPD's policies foster distrust in the community, which can, in the end, lead to more violence.

"When people don’t trust the criminal justice system, they are less likely to rely on the law to solve conflicts, which might make them more likely to try to solve conflicts on their own, resulting in violent resolutions," the news release said.

The groups said ultimately, local control and new leadership within the department is needed for structural reform.

Read the groups’ full statement here.

41 Action News has reached out to KCPD for comment.