Chief Darryl Forté grabbed attention this week by rehashing weak excuses to keep state control of Kansas Citys Police Department.
By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH
The Kansas City Star
We already have local control with a governor-appointed police board, he claimed, even though Fortés top executives spoonfeed that group the information they want to offer on matters ranging from costs of health care insurance to building projects.
The police board is kept in the dark too often by police and city officials, a big problem when it comes to proper oversight of a $200 million-plus budget and 2,000-plus taxpayer-funded employees.
In the last few months The Star exposed, first, the cost overruns of millions of dollars for police construction projects and then the citys grab of millions of sales tax dollars from the police budget.
Forté also claimed taxpayers wouldnt save any money with consolidation, even though duplication exists between City Hall and Police Department civilian ranks when it comes to numerous functions such as finance and human resources.
Officials at City Hall and the department have been too timid in putting pen to paper and estimating those savings for the public. Thats the fault of Forté and City Manager Troy Schulte.
The chiefs arguments fall short of explaining why Kansas Citians should be the only residents in the entire nation who shouldnt be trusted to control their police through their locally elected officials. (And those residents live in a far too violent, high-crime city to boot, but thats a whole other story.)
However, it frankly doesnt matter what Forté thinks about the departments future on this issue. His opposition was expected; no chief has ever favored giving up the power to run the agency.
Two other people are far more influential than the chief.
The first, of course, is Mayor Sly James.
If hes willing to fight this battle over local control with the Missouri General Assembly in 2014, he has a chance of convincing legislators to eliminate the current arrangement.
If James backs off from the effort, its dead.
The other is Brad Lemon, executive vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Lemon is on the blue-ribbon commission that James appointed to investigate the pros and cons of local control. The mayor asked the group to get back to him and the City Council by October or so.
The group has spent months doing its job and soon will start wrapping up its discussions. Fortés shot this week at local control looked to be a bid to undermine the panels work, which cant please James.
At a commission meeting last month, Lemon made a statement that should have put the whole group on notice. He outlined how St. Louis city officials had trouble getting traction for their bid for local control until they started working with the Fraternal Order of Police there.
Eventually, the St. Louis officers won some crucial concessions, and state control ended last week. Thats a big victory for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and residents.
Lemon made it clear that Kansas Citys FOP deserves a big seat at the table when discussions reach the decision-point stage. And it does.
One positive outcome of all this would be for James and Lemons FOP to go arm-in-arm to Jefferson City with a decent plan to return local control to Kansas City.
For that to happen, though, its understandable that Lemon and other officers want to know whats in it for them. Thats where James commission will come in handy, if it works out recommendations that move this issue toward resolution.
Forté can wax on about the supposed advantages of state control all he wants. But the people of Kansas City ought to insist on having the proper oversight of their Police Department through elected officials responsible to them.