Three huge changes ahead for KC Police Department (or not)

policeStand by for major changes in Kansas City’s Police Department that could better protect residents and taxpayers — but only if Mayor Sly James and the police board make the right decisions.

James is the only city official on the Board of Police Commissioners; the four others are appointed by the governor. Alas, Kansas City is the only city in the nation that does not have local control over its police agency.

The three priorities facing the board:

— Select a new chief to replace Darryl Forte, who retires in late May.

The board could select a new chief who would be a change agent for the department, which seldom has picked a leader from outside Kansas City.

The new chief also could be someone who will not try to rock the boat. That would be the worst possible hire in a city with some of the highest murder and violent crime rates in the entire country.

Kansas City’s new chief will have to decide whether to continue major programs started under Forte. That especially includes NOVA, the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, which has not had the promised dividends in driving down homicides related to gangs.

— Decide how to handle a comprehensive staffing report — due to become public in the next few weeks — being put together by Matrix Consulting Group.

My research shows that Matrix has been pretty blunt in telling government officials in other cities and counties how they could improve their law enforcement agencies.

Will Matrix’s report recommend that KC’s Police Department put more officers on the street and have fewer behind desks, one of the aspects the group is investigating? That suggestion could lead to a huge row with police brass.

Again, the new chief’s actions will be vital on this issue. He or she needs to put in place the best and most reasonable recommendations from Matrix and not fight them.

— Reduce duplication of some management services within City Hall and the Police Department — such as human resources — to try to save taxpayer dollars.

The Kansas City Star printed a story Tuesday about the subject, based on a recent report by city officials.

Hmm, this sounds very familiar. About 12 years ago I began writing about the need to reduce duplication in the agency. Mayor Kay Barnes and Police Chief Jim Corwin said they would cooperate to make the department more efficient.

And here’s what I wrote in 2009 (when Mark Funkhouser was mayor) about the city and police competing to see which one should take over combined functions: “If the police can provide better service at a lower cost, put its staff in charge. And vice versa if the city staff is more competent.”

And here’s more from 2013 in James’ first term: “Forte also claimed taxpayers wouldn’t save any money with consolidation…. Officials at City Hall and the department have been too timid in putting pen to paper and estimating those savings for the public. That’s the fault of Forte and City Manager Troy Schulte.”

In the “not surprising” category, police board and staff officials in recent days told The Star that, gosh, combining forces with the city would be hard, wouldn’t save money, etc.

Consolidation is not going to happen unless James leads the charge on the police board to do it. The new chief will have to be on board to make it happen, too.

Maintaining the status quo would not be the best way to serve Kansas Citians.

(Full disclosure: My son is a Kansas City Police Department officer and has nothing to do with this blog.)