Kansas City police say they are insulated from political pressure because they report to a board controlled by city residents, not city politicians.
But does that also insulate them from the public? That was the central theme of a debate about police control Thursday night at the Kansas City Public Library.
As it stands, the mayor serves on the police board with four residents appointed by the governor. It’s generally acknowledged that the department is well run.
But a movement is gaining traction to give oversight to the city, which devotes nearly half of its general fund to the Police Department. Kansas City will soon be the only city in the country with a state-appointed police regulating body, now that St. Louis is poised to switch from state to city control this summer.
If Kansas City’s system works so well, City Councilman Ed Ford asked why other cities aren’t clamoring for it.
“What is it about Kansas City that makes us incapable of self-governing?” Ford asked.
An audience member questioned why residents would want to give police control to city officials who haven’t solved problems with fire, ambulance and sewer services.
“I am held accountable by the voters,” Ford said, noting that police board members are not.
Former police board president Karl Zobrist said police chiefs can make professional decisions under the current model.
“You cannot put a price on integrity,” he said. “Once you give this system up, you will not get it back.”