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Office of Community Complaints working to increase visibility within KCMO

Posted at 10:20 PM, Jun 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-04 23:48:07-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the midst of protests calling for criminal justice reform, there is already an independent agency responsible for looking into allegations of police misconduct, which has now been thrust into the spotlight.

Hundreds of calls and emails have flooded the Office of Community Complaints as Kansas City, Missouri, enters its seventh day of protests.

"We work directly for the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners; we do not work for the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department," Merrell Bennekin, executive director for the office, told 41 Action News on Thursday.

Bennekin oversees the office that has existed for more than 50 years, but not many people knew about it until this week.

"We determine whether or not you want to have your complaint mediated or go through the formal investigation," Bennekin said.

Community complaints are classified under six categories:

1. Bias-Based Policing — Circumstances where the police actions of a member were substantially based on the race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, disabilities or national origin of a person, rather than upon lawful and appropriate police procedures.
2. Discourtesy — Circumstances where the actions or statements of a department member were in violation of the Code of Ethics or Rules of Conduct of the department based upon the context of the contact with the complainant. For example, the use of ethnic slurs would be classified as discourtesy.
3. Excessive Use of Force — Circumstances where a member of the department used more force than is reasonably necessary to arrest a suspect, take a suspect into custody, stop a suspect for investigation, control a situation, restore order, or maintain discipline.
4. Harassment — Circumstances where a member of the department has had repeated or continued contact with a person without lawful police justification.
5. Improper Member Conduct — Circumstances where the behavior of a member was unprofessional, unjustified, beyond the scope of the authority of the member, unauthorized by department procedures, or constituted an unreasonable lack of police service.
6. Improper Procedure — Circumstances where an administrative or procedural requirement was not met. This includes, but is not limited to, improper search and seizure, omission of the Miranda Warning where required, etc.

*Above information obtained from Office of Community Complaints report

It is then up to KCPD's Internal Affairs Unit to gather information over an alleged incident.

"They are merely the group of individuals that assemble the information for the case files at all times," Bennekin said. "We are in control of the case files, the information that goes into it. If we need additional information, we have no problem obtaining it or getting it."

However, in recent days, activists believe internal affairs shouldn't play a role in the process.

"Let's talk about rebuilding the Office of Community Complaints," Gwen Grant with the Urban League of Greater Kansas City said. "I'm not talking to somebody who obstructs me somebody, who suppresses me, who does not respect me and my community."

Prior to the demonstrations, data shows that as of April, there were 17 fewer complaints year-to-date.

On Thursday, KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas announced new oversight measures of KCPD, including that all major use-of-force complaints will be reviewed by an outside agency, like the FBI, and there will be whistleblower protections for officers who report any misconduct to the Office of Community Complaints.

"We're going to every tool at our disposal at this point, to make sure that we can remedy some of these situations that have been brought to our attention, and rest assured if we don't get it right, we will continue to work to improve those systems and processes," Bennekin said.

On Thursday, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office launched a new webpage where people can report any police misconduct or excessive use of force.