Editorial: Vacancies show the absurdity of letting the state control Kansas City police

The case of Nathan Garrett and Bishop Mark Tolbert shows why state control of Kansas City’s police is so absurd.
The case of Nathan Garrett and Bishop Mark Tolbert shows why state control of Kansas City’s police is so absurd.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ decision to withdraw two nominees for the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners appears to be a result of an ongoing squabble between the state Senate, which must consider the nominations, and the governor.

But it also points out the absurdity of the state controlling the Kansas City Police Department.

Earlier this month, the governor named Bishop Mark Tolbert and lawyer Nathan Garrett to fill two of the board’s five seats. The Star applauded those choices.

Now, though, Greitens has pulled them back, apparently because he’s fearful the state Senate might reject the nominations. He’s expected to re-nominate the two men once the General Assembly is safely out of town.

Consider for a moment how this political back-and-forth will affect the board and its search for a new chief of police.

Current board members Mike Rader and Angela Wasson-Hunt are now the lamest ducks imaginable. While they may be asked to sit in on discussions about the search for a new chief, or perhaps review candidates’ resumes, they may not be around to select the new chief. That task will likely be left to their replacements, who will not have had a formal role in the selection process.

In essence, control of the police department and the safety of the citizens it serves are held hostage to a political spitball fight in Jefferson City.

Such a nonsensical sequence of events would not be possible in any other city in America.

We’ve written often about the bizarre reality of the state’s supervision of Kansas City’s police department. The Board of Police Commissioners spends $250 million a year, far more than any other department in Kansas City, yet citizens have no direct role in the board’s decisions.

Kansas Citians should not doubt the hard work and integrity of Rader or Wasson-Hunt, or former commissioner Alvin Brooks, who recently resigned. But a governor-appointed supervisory board invites this kind of political mischief, precisely the type of thing it’s designed to avoid.

Kansas City has never made local control a top priority in Jefferson City. And state lawmakers say they don’t want to pursue a difficult policy goal without a firm push from city leadership.

But enthusiasm for local control may be growing. Residents, alarmed by the spike in violent crime, want to hold the department more accountable. Rank-and-file officers may also see local control as a way to exert a stronger influence on policy and pay decisions.

Political figures are speaking out.

So Kansas City’s leadership may want to launch another effort for local control next year. A petition seeking a statewide vote on local control of the department has been approved for circulation, an arduous process that nevertheless deserves support.

Here’s another suggestion: Kansas City voters could be asked in November 2018 if they want local control or continued supervision by the governor’s hand-picked commissioners.

We think Kansas Citians would like such a choice. The legislature and Gov. Greitens should provide it.

The Board of Police Commissioners might even support it, if its members ever take their seats.