KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mayor Quinton Lucas announced that city residents will get to vote for or against local control of the police department, addressing a major discussion topic in local police reform.
The question, which would appear on the November General Election ballot, would ask residents if the the city should make it a legislative priority to pursue legal action, returning control of the police department to the city. Currently, the department is overseen by a state-run committee, which was formed back in the Pendergast era of the early 1900s.
“We need to ask the people where we stand, what they think, and what they think is important for the future of Kansas City, Missouri,” Lucas said.
The question would not have a legally binding effect. Lucas said Kansas Citians are unable to change the control over the police department with a local vote. However, he said the answer would give a clear directive for local representatives at in the state legislature.
Lucas said the issue is brought up every few years but nothing really happens. He now wants to hear from the people of Kansas City
“We need to figure out how we bring our community together long-term,” he said. “There are a lot of good men and women in the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department, there are a lot of good people in our community.”
The mayor acknowledged that this was only one part of a larger push for change. He said he wants to increase trust on all sides, decrease crime and solidify police review processes.
“We have heard loud and clear that there are people that want to have better relationships and want us to have better relationships between police and the community.”
However, Police Chief Rick Smith said the current system is good, stating that the push for local control is more about “local political control” in a blog post.
“Many say that model is outdated. We believe, however, that it has served the people of Kansas City well for 80 years and will continue to do so,” the chief wrote.
He stated that local control has nothing to do with how responsive the department is to the city council or the homicide rate in Kansas City. He also said that, even though this is the only model of control like it in the country, being unique is not a bad thing.
Lucas acknowledged that the police department will continue to exist “in five years, in ten years,” quelling speculation over recent calls by the Black Lives Matter movement to defund the police.