KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mayor Quinton Lucas has zeroed in on building trust between the Kansas City, Missouri, community and its police department as foundational to combating crime, especially on the city’s East Side where he grew up.
He’s repeatedly called for transparency and accountability as central to that mission, but there’s still work to do — for Lucas and the KCPD.
Perhaps nothing in the life of a city is more jarring in the effort to build trust — for the community and for the police force — than instances when officers use deadly force.
“I think the people of Kansas City trust and like their police department,” Lucas said Wednesday in an interview with KSHB 41. “That said, they want to be able to ask questions. They want to make sure that bad incidents that happen aren’t covered up.”
Toward that end, Lucas led the charge to have all KCPD shootings investigated by an outside agency, paving the way for the Missouri State Highway Patrol to take over incidents rather than have KCPD conduct its own investigations.
Despite some public squabbles over funding priorities in his role on the Board of Police Commissioners, Lucas counts himself among those who have faith in the KCPD and its officers.
“I trust the police department,” he said. ”I did before, I did after, I’ll continue to do so. That said, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing a fair investigation. I can’t do a good investigation of how things are going in the mayor’s office, if somebody was really trying to ask questions. I think it’s important to have an impartial third party.”
Lucas has continued to champion more reforms to the way KCPD operates. That includes providing more information to the public in a timely fashion.
“I actually do find more information is always better,” Lucas said. “There are some people who have this worldview of, ‘No, you shouldn’t share information until you know 100% of everything.’ I disagree.”
The value of such transparency was apparent in June when a woman was shot in a store parking lot near East 6th Street and Prospect.
An eyewitness fueled rumors that the woman who was shot was pregnant and unarmed, stirring up anger in the community and sowing distrust.
“It turned out (she) was not pregnant and was armed,” Lucas said. “The only thing they (the witness) got right was that someone got shot. That’s the sort of challenge that I think we have when we aren’t sharing information.”
Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker released a still image of the woman, who was charged with several crimes after being released from the hospital, holding a weapon as she ran from police in the moments before being shot.
Prosecutors also showed select community leaders video of the incident to quell the swirling rumors.
“I think early communication is the most important thing we can do,” Lucas said. “We are trying to do better in connection with sharing the facts with people. ... I think more than that, it’s getting more information out as soon as you can. We don’t always live up to that.”
Lucas said he’s proud that KCPD and other leaders in Kansas City are doing better at sharing information, but it's not yet reflexive in all cases.
The case remains under investigation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and has not been forwarded to the prosecutor’s office.
The information gap left in its place, which is necessary to conduct a fair investigation before the case is presented to prosecutors for consideration of charges, presents a significant hurdle to Lucas’ quest to reconcile the trust between his city and those sworn to protect and serve it.
“When there’s a groundswell of hundreds of people in the community, if not thousands, who are saying, ‘What in the heck’s going on?,’ something’s going to fill that gap,” Lucas said. “We can either let that be falsehoods or we can let that be factual information. I will always push for us to get more factual information out as quickly as possible. And frankly, even in that regard, we need to do better.”