The battle to return local control of the Police Department to the people of Kansas City could take a big step forward next month.
That’s when voters across Missouri will decide the fate of Proposition A — which would end the state’s grip on the St. Louis police force, which dates all the way back to the Civil War.
The Star recommends a “yes” vote on Nov. 6.
If the proposition passes, Kansas City would become the only city in the nation without direct control of its police. All other departments in Missouri — and all of those around the rest of the nation — would operate in a way that makes them far more accountable to local residents.
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But that still wouldn’t be true in Kansas City.
A victory for Proposition A should be used to jumpstart efforts to end the ability of Missouri’s governor to appoint four members of the police board that oversees Kansas City’s department; the fifth member is the mayor. Kansas City lost local control of police in the Pendergast era, a punishment that has far outlived its purpose. City officials need local control to best control expenses and practices.
Fortunately, Mayor Sly James appears ready to work out a plan for the city to do just that. The ultimate goal would be to make sure the selection of the police chief and the operation of the department would be under the control of locally elected and appointed city officials.
That would be a wise move on behalf of taxpayers. It could force further consolidation of some functions — such as information technology and human resources — that are now duplicated by police and City Hall. In St. Louis, Mayor Francis Slay says consolidation of some police and city duties could save $4 million a year.
On Tuesday James had lunch with Slay, who was in town campaigning for the statewide proposition. James already has signed a letter of support for Proposition A.
After the Nov. 6 election, let’s hope James will have the opportunity to work with City Council members, civic leaders, local state legislators and the police on a local control initiative for Kansas City. Business leaders and taxpayers should appreciate the issue of accountability that will be driving this effort. For good reasons, City Hall wants more say over how it will operate and pay for one of its most costly departments.
If a sensible proposal can be worked out by early 2013, James and others should request that the General Assembly approve the end of state control of Kansas City’s police force. That would be the quickest and most efficient way to conduct the public’s business.
Unfortunately, Missouri’s lawmakers don’t always listen to what local folks want to do with their own public safety agencies. Earlier this year legislators appeared ready to approve a bill to give local control to St. Louis. But it was held hostage unless an economic development bill also won approval. In the end, both matters died.
Enter Rex Sinquefield, a wealthy St. Louis area businessman. He helped finance a successful statewide petition drive to place Proposition A on the fall ballot.
It would be a waste of time and money if Kansas City had to follow the same model.
We’re hopeful local voters will strongly support Proposition A. That could make it easier to find support in Jefferson City to end state control of the Kansas City Police Department in 2013.