When police shootings occur, it is vital that the community be satisfied that the use of deadly force will be reviewed by officials who are unbiased and independent. It is also critical that such reviews occur promptly, that the public be informed of the results in a timely manner and that the process by which this occurs has the confidence of the community.
The Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission has reviewed these issues and generally believes that the current system operating in Kansas City meets these standards. Unlike almost every other major metropolitan area, the Kansas City Police Department is overseen by a five-member independent Board of Police Commissioners, of whom the mayor of Kansas City is a permanent member. The other four commissioners are Kansas City citizens, appointed by the governor of Missouri and confirmed by the Missouri Senate, who by law may not participate in partisan political activity while serving on the board.
This governance system has led to a culture of honesty, integrity and accountability that has seen officers disciplined and terminated when their use of force failed to meet professional standards. Chief Darryl Forté is the latest in a long line of respected chiefs of police, notably including Clarence Kelley, who was called upon to head the FBI in the 1970s.
When a potential conflict of interest arises that could compromise a KCPD internal investigation, chiefs have requested that the FBI, the Department of Justice or the Missouri Highway Patrol conduct the inquiry.
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The conduct of Kansas City police officers is also monitored by the three elected prosecuting attorneys of Jackson, Clay and Platte Counties. They each conduct independent investigations of police shootings, determine whether charges should be filed or present the case to a grand jury. The KCPD and the police board are regularly audited by the Missouri state auditor and the Kansas City auditor.
While good governance is essential, the Crime Commission recognizes that police officer shootings demand society’s attention to the critical state of community safety. Any suspicion of police misconduct must be taken seriously and addressed to the satisfaction of every citizen, especially the African-American community in light of recent events.
Every investigation of a shooting must determine whether the use of force was legal, whether the officer’s conduct was reasonable and appropriate and whether better training or policies could have led to a better outcome.
Although the Crime Commission does not see a need at the present time for another layer of civilian oversight, things could change. We agree with Chief Forté that if circumstances arise that call into serious question the conduct of the police and that cause the public’s confidence in the department to wane, there may be a need for additional civilian oversight. If so, it must be implemented in a responsible and professional way that fairly balances the interests of law enforcement with those of every citizen.
Rick L. Armstrong is president and W. Terrence Kilroy is chairman of the Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission.