Mary Sanchez

Avoiding Ferguson-like problems means bonding police with KC community

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles says he wasn’t invited to a roundtable discussion on policing Wednesday hosted by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. Kansas City will host a similar roundtable later this month.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles says he wasn’t invited to a roundtable discussion on policing Wednesday hosted by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. Kansas City will host a similar roundtable later this month. The Associated Press

The mayor of Ferguson, Mo., says he wasn’t invited to a roundtable talk on policing Wednesday hosted by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.

That’s a huge oversight given that the St. Louis event was in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

But as Kansas City readies for its roundtable Oct. 14, let’s cast the net wide for attendance here. Raytown, Grandview, North Kansas City, Independence — all of our inner-ring suburban cities and their police departments deserve a seat. The final list of 16 to 20 main participants is still being formulated, according to Koster’s office.

But it’s an open meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m. at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Anyone can show up.

The differences between police-community relations in Kansas City and in Ferguson are stark. That much was widely noted shortly after the outrageous violence that occurred after the shooting death of the unarmed 18-year-old.

It’s not a stretch to argue that the Kansas City Police Department and the community it serves are not nearly as strained, benefiting from connections forged over decades.

But we’d be foolish to gloat.

The Sly James/Darryl Forté presence is often cited, and rightly so. The mayor, police chief and other officers and city staff effectively link government and the police with residents.

Building on ties between the community and police while pressing for more diversity in smaller police departments in surrounding cities deserves equal attention.

This isn’t just a minority issue. Talk to teenagers in our suburbs of all races. Some of them offer the same stories of feeling overly targeted at times by police.

Koster, as a state official, has general goals. A major one is increasing the number of African-Americans, Latinos, women and others on police forces.

It’s not easily met. Many factors play a role: higher rates of criminal records among some minority groups, higher dropout rates from high school and the very sort of poor community relations that Koster seeks to address.

Koster envisions a program that draws from cops mentoring some of the young people they police. He’ll look at use-of-force laws, another worthy measure applicable to departments large and small.

There’s no reason all metro police can’t be represented, even if they don’t wind up on a narrower guest list.

Don’t wait for the invite.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or email msanchez@kcstar.com.

Link for public to submit questions

https://www.ago.mo.gov/forms/roundtable.php

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