The Buzz

The facts, faces and hum of local politics with Steve Kraske and Dave Helling

Kansas City still has company in the debate over controlling police

07/02/2013 12:14 AM

07/02/2013 12:17 AM

Last November, Missouri’s voters said St. Louis could take back full control of its police force, which had been the responsibility of state government for more than a century.

The ballot measure said the transfer could come “on or after” July 1 — Monday.

It turns out, though, that local police control in St. Louis is, uh, complicated. Recently, city leaders pushed back the date for assuming local control until September.

The delay means Kansas City and St. Louis will remain, for this summer at least, the only two cities in America without full authority for their police.

Once the transfer takes place, we’ll want to keep a close eye on what local control actually means for public safety. The violent crime problem in Kansas City and St. Louis is acute, but by this time next year we should know whether local control makes any significant difference in murders, thefts, rapes and assaults.

My guess? Local control won’t change much, at least at first. Violence is too embedded in both communities to be quickly reduced by the name at the top of the organizational chart.

But local police control isn’t really about fighting crime. There are lots of ways to organize a police force, and hundreds of strategies for reducing bloodshed — some highly successful. If Kansas City’s murder rate matched New York’s, only eight people would have been killed here this year. (As of Monday, the Kansas City Police Department reported 52 murders for 2013.)

Local control

is

about accountability — for money, for efficiency, for fairness in how officers and suspects are treated. Taxpayers, who will shell out more than $200 million for police protection this year, deserve a say in the safety that money buys.

Mostly, though, continued state supervision of the city’s most important function says Kansas City is still too corrupt or incompetent to run its own affairs, a statement that tarnishes everything else the city tries to do.

Kansas City’s government has problems, just like every other government in America. Is it

uniquely

corrupt? Not likely. Yet state control of the police department says it is.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court said the Voting Rights Act unfairly punished states for their legacy of discrimination in the 1960s. You may agree or disagree with the finding.

But perhaps you can sympathize with the deep humiliation those states felt — for decades, Washington told those states you’re too racist to run your own elections.

For decades, Missouri has told Kansas Citians you’re too crooked or stupid to run your police. Come September, we’ll be only city in America with that shameful label.

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