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KCMO mayor seeks to put local control of KCPD on Nov. 3 ballot

Lucas says vote could lay out a path forward
Posted at 12:23 PM, Jun 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-25 18:22:18-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas on Thursday said he would seek to place a referendum on the ballot in 2020 asking voters if they support local control of the city's police department.

At a news conference with area faith leaders and activists, Lucas said that he would introduce an ordinance to the City Council that would place the question on the Nov. 3 ballot in Kansas City.

The question would ask voters if they would like to see control of the Kansas City Police Department returned to the mayor and City Council, rather than its current model.

The police department currently answers to the Board of Police Commissioners and its four members, who are appointed by the Missouri governor. The mayor also serves on the board.

"We have had a great deal of conversation in recent weeks about the future of public safety in Kansas City," Lucas said. "I think we have gotten to a point in that conversation where we need to ask the people where they stand, what they think and what they think is important for the future of Kansas City, Missouri."

Approval of the referendum wouldn't change the structure of control, but Lucas said it would send a clear signal on voters' preferences for how to move forward.

If approved by voters, Lucas said the city would move to place the issue at the top of legislative priorities when the Missouri General Assembly returns to the state capitol in January 2021.

If the legislature does not approve the issue, it would need to be petitioned and then placed on a statewide ballot.

Under the "fastest" scenario, Lucas said that by November 2021, the issue could be placed on the statewide ballot.

"This doesn't do everything, don't get me wrong," Lucas said. "But this at least lays out a path... of where we can go. And if the public says no, we don't like this path, I respect the public in Kansas City."

At a scheduled briefing on Thursday afternoon, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said it would require legislative approval to revert KCPD oversight from the Board of Police Commissioners to local control.

KCPD Chief Rick Smith has resisted calls in the past for local control of his department. In a blog post in November 2019, Smith wrote that KCPD's form of governance "should be seen as a strength, not a weakness."

Smith said he believes the push for local control is really a political move because the members of the BOPC all live in the city.

A police spokesman directed 41 Action News to the November blog post when asked for comment about Lucas' actions on Thursday.

During the news conference on Thursday, Lucas outlined the proposal as one part of the larger effort for police reforms in light of the broader conversations about police brutality.

"This is only one bit of a broader change that I am committed to," Lucas said. "We have heard loud and clear that there are people who want to have better relationships between police and their community."

Local control is on a list of recent police reform demands, which are quickly being addressed one by one.

"When I hear local control, that opens the door for a lot of other reform. The biggest thing I have is an independent police review board to handle complaints," Emanuel Cleaver III said, a representative from St. James United Methodist Church.

Protesters say this is the step they were hoping for.

"We're taking a huge step at it right now, but we want everyone to be a part of this, not just the black community," Dominique Johnson said, a protester with the Black Kansas City Family activist group.

Leaders of MORE2, which stands for Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, released a statement ahead of Lucas' announcement saying they were "enthusiastic at seeing the shift in political will" regarding the issue of local control in recent weeks.

“When we started on this journey some five years ago, MORE2 recognized the need for local control was long overdue," Kiku Brooks, co-chair of the Board of Directors of MORE2, said in the statement. "There are few things in this world that do not require an update in 80 years… and Kansas City policing is NOT one of them. Local control will put our citizens in a position to determine where and how our money is being used and will push for increased accountability and transparency in our police department. This ultimately will transform and establish trust between law enforcement and the community it serves."