By Eric L. Wesson Sr. 

Managing Editor THE CALL

Hill

Mayor Quinton Lucas  recently appointed a new group that is  charged with finding ways for the city to respond to continuing violence, which has persisted even during a virtual shutdown because of the coronavirus.

The Public Safety Study Group, one of many groups and task-forces appointed by previous Mayors when violent crime begins to escalate out of control, will consider such topics as reducing homicides and gun violence, possible local control of the police force and improving relations between police and the community.

The group will have until September 30 to present recommendations to Mayor Lucas. He would then introduce ordinances to the City Council or legislative action to the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners.

Several task-force recommendations from previous task-forces that included former Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks and Dr. Stacey Daniels Young have gone into great detail, but none of the recommendations have been implemented.

Only two of the task-force recommendations from Mayor Sly James’ group have been implemented.

Local control of the Police department will be a hot button topic. Kansas City is the only City in the United States that does not “locally control” its Police department. Although, the appointment by the Governor  is for positions filled by local residents, members of the group MORE2 argue that most of the appointees are from other than east of Troost. The group and their supporters argue a plan that allows the Mayor to appoint a Board which consists of one person from each Councilmatic District.

Currently, the only way the Chief of Police can be terminated by the Board and only  with cause. The community has no say so in his or her appointment or termination.

With the recent release of emails and letters between Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and Chief Smith that have surfaced in the media, the community should be greatly concerned over the issues involved, especially when the Police seem to be investigating themselves when it comes to Police shootings and failing to present evidence that could lead to prosecution.

According to documents obtained by THE CALL, which includes a letter is from Ms. Baker to Chief Smith and an email response from the Police department that some have called alarming as it pertains to the Department’s lack of transparency. 

The letter reads in part: 

“On February 10, 2020, my office requested a probable cause statement in the homicide investigation,” Ms. Baker said. 

“On February 12, 2020, when we did not receive that document within the requested timeframe, I sent a more formal request for the document. That request did not result in the providing of that document. Rather, on February 13th and February 17th, in person meetings were held with members of your department. I accepted these meetings in the hope that it would lead to my office receiving the requested document. Instead, I was told that my actions would greatly harm the department’s morale,” she said.

“To date, I do not have a probable cause statement in this homicide investigation and I’ve been told that all future probable cause statements may be withheld in officer-involved incidents investigated by your department. By withholding a probable cause statement for an officer-involved incident, you are blocking the prosecutor’s independent review of the facts under the law. Our system of government depends on checks and balances and oversight. Without such, the public will not have confidence in our decisions,” Ms. Baker said.

“Put simply, without a probable cause statement, my office cannot file a charge. The only option left to consider a criminal charge is through the Grand Jury’s review. I will use the Grand Jury process here, but it comes with a disadvantage. The Grand Jury is shrouded in secrecy by rule of law, which may produce mistrust in our community due to the lack of transparency. As you know, if an indictment is not returned by the Grand Jury, the public will be precluded from learning how or why that decision was reached,” she said.

“Police officers hold a special place in our community. They put their lives at risk to protect the citizens of this County. Because of this, they have strong protections under Missouri law and those protections direct the analysis of whether an officer has a legal defense to allegations that they have committed a crime when force has been used. But officers are not entitled to a special process when they are the subject of a criminal investigation. Investigations must be neutral. Our system depends on this. Neutrality is especially important when you are investigating someone who works within your own ranks,” Ms. Baker said.