KC mayor names panel to study control of police department

Kansas City will soon be the only city in the country with a state-run police force. On Thursday, Mayor Sly James launched a panel to study whether that’s the best way to govern the city’s law enforcement.

Many people say the existing system works just fine. Others say it makes no sense and the city should seize control of its own police force.

James’ 30-member commission has orders to weigh in on who is right and the best way to oversee the Kansas City Police Department.

“We have assembled fair-minded, equally wise Kansas Citians to weigh this complex issue,” James said of the commission that will be co-chaired by former mayor Kay Barnes and outgoing police board member Pat McInerney.

James declined to state his position on local control. He said the commission has people with diverse opinions who will hold public hearings and try to reach a community consensus. He wants a recommendation by October.

Kansas City’s police department has been under state control since 1939. Until recently, the Kansas City and St. Louis police departments were the only two in the country under state governance. But after a petition initiative, St. Louis voters approved local control last November. It takes effect this summer.

James said he doesn’t want a fight or a petition drive and he thinks the commission is a better way to plan the city’s path forward.