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KCPD Board of Commissioners more than 80 year history

Revived during Pendergast political machine
Posted at 3:25 PM, Jun 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-25 16:25:43-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The year was 1939.

Tom Pendergast's political machine controlled Kansas City, Missouri, including the city's police department.

The state of Missouri controlled Kansas City's Police Department with a board from it's founding in 1874 until 1932.

But after seven years of city control of KCPD, the state came down hard on the corruption of Pendergast's political machine.

According to reports, one effect of the machine led to officers being so low paid by design, they took bribes to help make ends meet.

As a result, the state's governor at the time reverted KCPD control to a board of police commissioners appointed by the governor.

State control in 1939 didn't stop there, as nearly half of KCPD employees were fired in an effort to clean up the department, according to a brief history of the department posted on its website.

More than 80 years later, that board of commissioners model for KCPD is still used today.

Here's how it works.

The governor appoints four Kansas City residents as commissioners to four-year terms each.

Kansas City's mayor serves as the fifth commissioner.

In 1939, each commissioner was paid $2,400 a year for what was then a full-time job to run KCPD.

More than 80 years later, commissioners are still paid $2,400 a year for what's now more of a part-time job.

One power the board has is to hire and fire KCPD's chief.

That power was front and center in 2017 when then-KCPD Chief Darryl Forte unexpectedly retired.

The retirement became controversial when 41 Action News revealed Forte was due nearly $500,000 in accumulated compensation, vacation and sick time as part of the contract Forte negotiated with the board of commissioners.

At that time, FOP President Brad Lemon was pushing for an additional $1.7 million in the police budget for mid-level police officer raises.

Lemon was concerned Forte's retirement payout could have an impact on those raises.

He complained every other KCPD member was capped or limited at the amount of time that member could accrue.

After Forte retired, the Board of Commissioners ultimately chose Rick Smith as the next KCPD chief, a job he still holds.

If the Board of Commissioners goes away, the city manager would likely take control of the hiring and firing of KCPD's chief, much like what currently happens with Kansas City Fire Department chiefs.

The board also currently has monthly open meetings to discuss KCPD operations.

The board also submits a KCPD budget proposal to the city council.

But it's ultimately up to the council to approve KCPD's budget.

Proposals to ditch the current system are nothing new.

Following the April 1968 race riots, then-Kansas City Mayor Ilus "Ike" Davis' Commission on Civil Disorder put out a report that August to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

One of those recommendations, along with increasing the KCPD force numbers, was to get rid of state control of KCPD.

In 2018, the 41 Action News I-Team asked Missouri Governor Mike Parson his opinion about the KCPD Board of Commissioners.

At that time, he said he was studying the issue.

We again asked for the governor's opinion on Thursday and are waiting for a response.