Missouri Gov.-elect Eric Greitens said Tuesday Kansas City’s police department should remain under the state’s supervision, not the city’s.
“We’re going to maintain state control,” Greitens told reporters at the Kansas City Police Academy in the Northland. “That’s what our officers want. They want a strong governor who has their back.”
Greitens’ statement places him firmly on one side of the long-running argument over who should directly oversee Kansas City’s police officers and civilian employees.
Under current Missouri law, the City Council has no direct responsibility for the police. Instead, the department is operated by a five-member board of commissioners — four members appointed by the governor and the city’s mayor.
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And that mayor, Sly James, said Tuesday he unequivocally supports ending state control of the police, putting him directly at odds with Greitens.
“It is ludicrous to think that somehow Kansas City should be the only city in this entire country where the state controls the police department,” James said. “Who … is actually responsible when things go wrong? There is no accountability.”
An initiative petition has been filed seeking a potential statewide referendum on police control in Kansas City, and the issue may come to the floor of the legislature later this year.
James said he plans to discuss the issue with Greitens.
Both men met with reporters after the governor-elect spoke to more than 150 police officers and civilians at the academy. Greitens promised to support first responders with training and equipment after he officially becomes governor Monday.
The Republican blamed violent crime in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield on what he called the “Ferguson effect” — the alleged tendency of officers to back away from confrontations for fear they won’t have community support.
He called Ferguson a national embarassment. “It’s been affecting law enforcement organizations all over the state of Missouri,” he said.
The Kansas City visit was part of a daylong thank-you tour through western and central Missouri. He visited Kirksville and St. Joseph earlier in the day.
In St. Joseph, he met with reporters and discussed state funding for two Kansas City-area attractions — the Truman Sports Complex and Bartle Hall. Missouri spends roughly $5 million annually on both facilities.
Greitens recently said the state would not help St. Louis build a new soccer stadium, calling such subsidies “corporate welfare.” But he did not directly criticize the Kansas City-area spending, saying only he wants to study the matter.
Tuesday’s visit to the Police Academy wasn’t all about politics for Greitens. Before his speech, the former Navy SEAL performed exercises with a group of police officers and a separate group of trainees.
He kept pace with most of the officers, and outpaced some of them. He appeared to enjoy the session.
“It was hard work. We were sweating,” Greitens said. “I made it through.”