Yael T. Abouhalkah

Ignore Chief Darryl Forté and move Kansas City toward local police control

Updated: 2013-09-04T23:22:38Z

By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH

The Kansas City Star

Chief Darryl Forté grabbed attention this week by rehashing weak excuses to keep state control of Kansas City’s Police Department.

We already have local control with a governor-appointed police board, he claimed, even though Forté’s 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 city’s grab of millions of sales tax dollars from the police budget.

Forté also claimed taxpayers wouldn’t 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. That’s the fault of Forté and City Manager Troy Schulte.

The chief’s arguments fall short of explaining why Kansas Citians should be the only residents in the entire nation who shouldn’t 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 that’s a whole other story.)

However, it frankly doesn’t matter what Forté thinks about the department’s 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 he’s 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, it’s 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. Forté’s shot this week at local control looked to be a bid to undermine the panel’s work, which can’t 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. That’s a big victory for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and residents.

Lemon made it clear that Kansas City’s 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 Lemon’s 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, it’s understandable that Lemon and other officers want to know what’s in it for them. That’s 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.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/YaelTAbouhalkah.

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