A coalition of Kansas City civil rights groups on Tuesday renewed a call for the creation of an independent citizens review board to monitor and investigate fatal shootings by police officers.
“The issue is pretty simple: Law enforcement … in incidences of police brutality, is not equipped to enforce itself,” said the Rev. Vernon P. Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City. “This doesn’t take rocket science to figure out. The issue is an independent presence that is unbiased, and this will help to avoid the conflict of interest that is inherent in a police commission enforcing its own constituencies.”
Howard made the request during the monthly meeting Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners. The SCLC is among 20 groups that called for the reforms.
The police board is created through Missouri statute and individual commissioners are appointed by the governor. This prohibits the police board from creating a separate independent board to investigate fatal police shootings, said board member, Alvin Brooks.
The proposed changes were prompted by the death of Ryan Stokes in July 2013. Stokes, 24, was killed by a Kansas City police officer after a foot chase near the Power & Light District.
Stokes’ mother, Narene Stokes-James, filed a civil lawsuit recently in U.S. District Court that said police board policies led to the fatal shooting.
Among the proposals: create a safe foot-pursuit policy and appoint a victim advocates team that would reach out to victims of police shootings and conduct mediation for victims and offenders in police shootings.
The groups also urged Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to review the Stokes shooting.
Howard said the civil rights groups think there are discrepancies between the police narrative and what they think happened the night Stokes was shot. A Jackson County grand jury declined to indict the officer.
Mayor Sly James, a member of the police board, said that because of pending litigation, the board could not comment about the Stokes shooting. But he said there were already several layers of review, including the police Office of Community Complaints.
In December, Kansas City police signed an agreement that would allow FBI agents to help investigate some officer-involved shootings and excessive-force complaints against police officers.