The Kansas City Missouri Police Department has failed to control violent crime in the city and has unconscionably discriminated against Black American citizens of the city. The Social Justice Ministry of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Kansas City, Missouri demands changes in the Kansas City Missouri Police Department to eliminate the systemic racism and failed policing policies in the department that are major causes of excessive crime and racial discrimination in Kansas City. Those changes mean that the Kansas City Missouri Police Department will be fundamentally transformed and recreated but not defunded.
Because of the violence and discrimination against them, Black Americans best understand the problems and how they can be eliminated. They need to be leaders of the efforts to overhaul the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. White people must support and join them but not act like they know best.
First, Chief Rick Smith must resign or be fired because of his failure to provide leadership during the protests. He continues to condone the use of excess force by his officers. He seemingly does not understand the effects of years of violence by the Kansas City Missouri Police Department against Blacks. He has failed to show empathy for the protesters. Additionally, Smith has been too protective of officers who have killed or injured Black Americans.
The policies and procedures of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, and indeed its institutional culture, must be significantly reformed and recreated. It is not a question of making some reforms around the edges.
In fact, the efforts at reform made after Rodney King’s beating, the efforts after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and efforts in other cities have failed to reduce police violence against Black Americans. Kansas City is still confronted with too many killings, injuries, and too much discrimination by the police.
Body cameras and diversity training are helpful but do not get to the root causes of police violence against Black Americans. Fundamental change is the only answer.
The Kansas City Star, June 2, 2020, made several good suggestions for fundamental changes for the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. These included three the Social Justice Ministry believes Kansas City Blacks and other citizens support and will produce visible, beneficial results:
- Create a citizens’ review board. The board will handle complaints against officers. The board must be independent and not controlled by the Board of Police Commissioners, the City Council, the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, or prosecutors. The review board should have its own staff, legal assistance, open hearings, subpoena power, access to all needed records, and the power to dismiss or impose other penalties on officers who use excessive force or discriminate against Black Americans or any others.
- Demilitarize the police. The Kansas City Missouri Police Department has obtained and used too much military equipment that makes it look and act like an occupying army and not a protective police force. This creates distrust in the police. There was absolutely no reason for our police to be dressed in full military riot gear when they confronted and attacked peaceful and helpless persons protesting about the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The Kansas City Missouri Police Department must be demilitarized
- Institute local control. The present system of control of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department by the Board of Police Commissioners and not the City Council deprives Kansas City citizens of control of the police. Local control makes the Kansas City Missouri Police Department more accountable. The City Council, the existing Board of Police Commissioners, and all of Kansas City must get the legislature to give control to the City Council.
More generally, there are other principles and policies for achieving fundamental transformation of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department that should be adopted by the Kansas City Council or the Board of Police Commissioners:
- Reduce police contact with the public. The present system gives the police the power and opportunity to harass and kill with impunity.
- Police officers should not respond to certain kinds of emergencies and problems – domestic violence, drug use and related crimes, homelessness, mental and physical health emergencies, minor traffic offenses. Leave those problems to social workers, health care professionals, and other agencies. Police are not adequately trained or needed to deal with these problems.
- Funding of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department must be substantially reduced. The department has a budget of $273 Million or $554 for each citizen of Kansas City. The Kansas City Missouri Police Department spends four times as much per person as Omaha, a city comparable to Kansas City, spends on its police department. It spends twice as much as Overland Park spends per capita for its department. (Kansas City Star, June 14, 2020). Obviously, Kansas City is over-policed, and millions can be cut from the budget. Use those huge savings for public housing, education, medical and mental health care, and job security to begin to deal with the root causes of the huge inequalities and violent crime in Kansas City.