The legal review committee considered Ordinance 200496 at its Tuesday, July 21, meeting.
The ordinance calls for an election on Nov. 3, 2020 to obtain public authorization as a City legislative priority to establish the pursuit of a state legislative or referendum action that would restore local control of the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD).
The control would be in the hands of Mayor Quinton Lucas and the City Council, rather than the current control of the department by the Board of Police Commissioners, which is a committee of four members appointed by the governor and includes the mayor.
The city government has not had full control and governance of its police department since 1939, and is currently the only city in Missouri with this model.
In February, the council adopted a resolution to create a task force on violent crime and exploring local control, to which the mayor appointed members in May. Local protests amplified the voice of members of the public asking for local control.
Lucas said a vote in November would gauge the public’s opinion on the issue, although the vote would not cause any direct action.
The committee did not vote to make a recommendation on the ordinance, using the time solely for a public hearing. Sixteen people spoke on the issue, and over 60 written comments were submitted.
Many in favor of local control argued that this ordinance is not the way to go about it, especially in the midst of a pandemic that will have unknown financial consequences for the city.
Those against local control said that the department could be used as a political prop. Others shared the example of St. Louis, which gained local control of its police department in 2013 and has since gone into debt.
While one speaker, who is from St. Louis, noted correlation does not necessarily equal causation, as one of a few cities that did not have local control, council members could be researching that transition when making a decision on what to prioritize for the upcoming year.
The ordinance that would put the issue to a city-wide vote came under criticism from some opponents as being a waste of time and money during an ongoing pandemic. Some were concerned it would confuse voters, as a victory at the polls would not create any direct changes.
After the Special Committee for Legal Review considered the ordinance that would put local control as a priority to a city-wide vote, 4th District Councilman Eric Bunch introduced a resolution at Thursday’s council meeting to make the issue an ongoing legislative priority without putting it to a city-wide vote.
The Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee sets legislative priorities each year before the state and federal legislative sessions convene, considering input from city staff, organizations, businesses and other municipalities. The city website has a form to submit issues for the Legislative Committee’s consideration.