Kansas City’s Board of Police Commissioners will spend the summer looking for a new chief of police — holding public hearings, working with a national search firm, interviewing candidates.
The decision is critically important, and the board must listen to as many voices as possible before making the pick.
As it turns out, though, all of those voices could be drowned out by just one: Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. That should worry every Kansas Citian.
Three of the five members of the police board are actually serving beyond the end of their terms. At any time, Greitens could replace them and effectively control the board. It’s possible Greitens will use that authority in the next few weeks.
Some Kansas City officials believe Greitens is intent on naming board members now in order to directly influence the choice of a new chief. City leaders have sought reassurances from Greitens that he would stay out of the search for a chief, but so far the governor has remained silent.
Greitens’ office, as usual, did not respond to a request for comment. But even the possibility that a sitting governor could play a direct role in picking Kansas City’s chief of police is a matter of deep concern.
There is no more important job in Kansas City than police chief. He or she is responsible for protecting half a million residents every day.
A police chief must interact with the citizens he serves. She must understand politics. And the chief must wisely spend $250 million or more each year, protecting taxpayers and police officers at the same time.
Outgoing Chief Darryl Forté gets high marks for his outreach to disadvantaged communities in Kansas City. That’s one reason the city has dodged the civil unrest that has plagued other places.
The wrong appointment could undo that work.
Kansas Citians should decide who can best shoulder the chief’s responsibilities. No governor should substitute his or her judgment for that of the city’s residents.
Defenders of the unique and unwieldy system that allows for state control of the Kansas City Police Department argue that the board essentially provides local control since commissioners live here. That falls apart if the governor intervenes in the board’s hiring decisions.
Missouri’s governors have understood this for decades. We must watch carefully to make sure Greitens takes a hands-off approach over the next weeks.
Having said that, we urge the governor to make his appointments to the board in a timely manner and then permit the commissioners to do their jobs. It’s more evidence of the dysfunction of state control when commissioners routinely serve far past the expiration of their terms.
Former Gov. Jay Nixon regrettably failed to appoint new board members when he could. That mistake left the appointments to Greitens.
We think Kansas City should control its police department. As long as the state controls the police, though, it must execute its duties and then allow commissioners to make decisions independent of the governor or anyone else in Jefferson City.
Policing is too important to be left in the hands of those with little stake in the city’s public safety.