NewsLocal News


In-Depth: A look at the history of state, local control of KCPD funding

Posted at 7:54 PM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 23:32:02-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Some leaders are trying to figure out how to move onward with the overhaul of the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department budget, while others are looking at how to undo it.

Two ordinances passed Thursday after heated debate in the KCMO City Council, clearing a path to change part of the funding for KCPD.

Specifically, it takes more than $42 million budgeted to the force and redirects it into a community services fund.

That pool of money could eventually be used by the police department in contracts approved by the city manager.

Some see this move as a way to give some element of control back to the city.

However, critics are saying that wasn't necessary. And they're criticizing how it was done.

Police Board Commissioner Nathan Garrett is one such critic.

Garrett said he and other board members were completely blindsided.

He claims KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas didn't give them any heads up before making the announcement.

Now, he said the board members are trying to decide how to proceed, including possibly pursuing legal action.

"So if this isn’t political pandering, political theater I don’t know what it is, because there was no engagement, no conversation of discussion whatsoever," Garrett said.

As one of the board of police commissioners, Garrett is also critical of the idea of taking funding away from police and putting that money in a separate fund.

"Yes, I am very concerned, and I want the men and women of the police department to know that this board of police commissioners has its back. And I will tell you we will do everything in our power to address this," he said.

Garrett also said the quick move to push this change through the city council is one of the reasons why a board was reinstated decades ago.

"For the very moment we’re in right now, that’s the very premise chapter 84 is based upon, is to remove the police department from city politics," Garrett said.

When the Kansas City Police Department was founded in 1874, it was overseen by a board of commissioners, appointed by the governor.

That briefly changed in 1932 when it came back under city control. But, that was short lived.

"The police department would be bribed outright. In exchange, contacting a lot of these forms of vice going on," Jason Roe, a digital history specialist with the Kansas City Public Library said.

Corruption within the department was mostly attributed to political boss Tom Pendergast, and Roe said that's what prompted a return to state control seven years later

Since then, it's remained under state control for more than 80 years. Garrett said it's working.

Although currently practicing law, he has a law enforcement background, having served as a Missouri State Trooper and a Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent.

The three other board members include a pastor, a retired attorney and a private investor, all who are Kansas City residents.

Lucas is also on the board, but is among those calling for the city to resume local control.

Lucas initially sought to put the issue to a vote last November. It would have been a citywide vote and an effort at showing state legislature it's a priority for local voters. But it ultimately didn't get it on the ballot in time.

41 Action News reached out to KCPD Chief Rick Smith who was not available for an interview at this time.

Instead, a KCPD public information officer said a 2019 blog post by Smith shows how he defended the board of police commissioners.

In that post, Smith noted that while KCMO might be the only major city in the nation under this model, it's one he thinks works.