Finally, Mayor James leans toward local control of police

10/15/2013 11:04 AM

02/17/2014 11:21 PM

In some welcome comments Monday, Kansas City Mayor Sly James indicated he favors more city control of the Police Department.

This is positive news because it shows the mayor — who’s on the current police board — recognizes the limitations of state control of the police.

Appearing before a citizens commission that’s looking into a new charter for Kansas City, James was talking about issues that he’s often asked about but has little or no control over. They include education and crime.

At present, he told the commission, “There is no accountability” at the Police Department to the people of Kansas City.

Instead, he said, there is “arrogance, anarchy and inefficiency.”

To be clear, these were not detailed statements from the mayor outlining all the strengths and weaknesses of the current system. Nor did they appear to be his best-stated reasons for moving toward local control, which I strongly favor.

Instead, he was just giving an indication of his thoughts on the matter.

A few minutes later after his appearance before the Charter Commission, the mayor told me in an interview outside his office that — at the very least — the mayor ought to be able to appoint the police board. Right now, the governor of Missouri appoints four members of the board, and the mayor is the fifth member. The people of Kansas City have no control over whom the governor selects.

Notably, about a half hour later Monday evening, I attended a meeting of the special commission that James appointed to recommend whether the city should try to get out of state control. That group is working toward a Nov. 11 deadline of making a final decision on what it will do.

It’s looking at three options: Keep state control, maintain the current governance with some changes (which might be the model James was talking about with a mayoral-appointed police board) or move to full city control.

That latter move would be best, because it could wring the most efficiencies for taxpayers out of both the Police Department and City Hall.

The mayor has not appeared before the special police commission and isn’t scheduled to.

But James’ comments on Monday show he’s leaning in the right direction on this matter.


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