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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson will soon appoint new members to the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners. He should realize the panel that serves as the face of local law enforcement has historically borne too little resemblance to the community it serves — in its attitudes about policing as well as in its makeup.
Diverse perspectives make any organization stronger. But in Kansas City, outsider viewpoints have for too long been left out of policy decision-making for the five-member board that oversees the Kansas City Police Department.
Not one woman of color has served on the police board in nearly two decades. Stacey Daniels-Young, the former executive director of the anti violence group Jackson County COMBAT, was the last. Her term ended in the early 2000s.
Will Parson listen to Kansas Citians, who want real change in the way they are policed? Or will the Republican former sheriff from Polk County double down and appoint yet another member determined never to rock the boat?
Under state law, four police commissioners are appointed by the governor. The mayor has an automatic seat on the board. Former commissioner Nathan Garrett recently resigned and fellow commissioner Don Wagner’s four-year term expired in March. Parson has yet to announce plans to replace either. Wagner is legally allowed to remain on the board until his successor is appointed.
The police board has enough members for a quorum and is able to conduct business, a spokesperson for the governor’s office said.
But the business it conducts is business as usual. Police Chief Rick Smith needs to be challenged, which hasn’t happened under the current board. Real reform cannot occur until he is held to account.
Homicides peaked under Smith’s watch last year and remain a concern. The police board has ignored a request from the City Council to provide more accurate information on gun violence. And the board consistently fails to hold Smith responsible for the actions of the officers who answer to him.
This spring, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas urged Parson to consider three Kansas Citians for the board, and one of the three was a Black woman.
There are many qualified minority women candidates for Police Board, said Michele Watley, founder of Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, a nonpartisan political consulting firm.
But Black women are rarely appointed to statewide boards and commissions, Watley said. And without diversity of thought, gender and race, nothing about policing in Kansas City will change.
“After Black men, Black women and Latinos are most affected by police violence,” Watley said. “Why not add a different perspective to the police board?”
The social justice nonprofit MORE2, the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, was founded in 2004. Not one Black or Latina woman has served on the Kansas City Police Board since then, said Lora McDonald, MORE2 executive director.
Of the 17 commissioners during that time, excluding mayors, nine were white men and three were white women. Only three Black men and one Latino man have been police commissioners over the last 17 years.
State law mandates that the Board of Police Commissioners be responsible for providing police service to Kansas City residents. Missouri statutes do not require the governor to appoint commissioners who think, act and feel the same way on political issues. Representation matters.