After muscling up for the cameras while training with Kansas City police officers and recruits, Missouri Gov.-elect Eric Greitens this week shot from the hip about the department’s future.
“We’re going to maintain state control,” of the agency said the former Navy SEAL. “That’s what our officers want. They want a strong governor who has their back.”
Mayor Sly James, a proponent of local control and an ex-Marine, fired back: “It is ludicrous to think that somehow Kansas City should be the only city in this entire country where the state controls the police department. Who … is actually responsible when things go wrong? There is no accountability.”
Oh, and the city — not the state — funds most of the department’s $230-million-plus budget every year.
Greitens has unnecessarily picked a fight with the mayor of the state’s largest city. He jumped into the longstanding debate over the control of KCPD’s future with comments that were, when parsed, absurd.
When Greitens says he “has their back,” will he pump more state money into Kansas City’s department so it can hire more officers?
Will Greitens insist, through the governor-appointed police board, that the city use its own funds to hire extra officers?
And what about all the other cities in Missouri where local officials run police departments, such as in St. Louis, Springfield, Columbia and all the way down the line. Is Greitens going to support a state takeover of police departments in those cities so he can “have their back”?
The answers are no, no and no.
Greitens’ comments this week were simple-minded. He carelessly implied that James, the City Council and the people of Kansas City don’t care as much as he and four state-appointed members of the police board do about local officers and policing.
City officials have to take into account the needs of all residents and all city employees in working out budgets to provide public services every year. And the Police Department gets a good-sized chunk of those funds.
James and Greitens need to have a calm, rational talk about the Police Department’s future. The mayor, the fifth member of the police board, has it right when he says local control eventually is the best way to go.
Chief Darryl Forte and his command staff are used to the police board being pretty much of a rubber stamp for their programs and spending initiatives, just as previous boards too often have been for other chiefs.
Many police officers have concerns about local control. But that doesn’t mean they get to call the shots about who governs them.
One way to obtain local control is through a recently unveiled initiative petition that could lead to a statewide vote in two years.
But it would be quicker and better for city, police and state officials including Greitens to agree on a compromise bill the General Assembly could approve in the 2017 session.
Then the governor could sign it and still boast that he “has their backs” when it comes to the Kansas City Police Department.