A new union contract for Kansas City police, approved earlier this month, calls for the appointment of a coordinator who will oversee disciplinary investigations.
The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners unanimously approved the new collective bargaining agreement with the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 99 during a closed teleconference session on Aug. 3.
Bishop Mark C. Tolbert, police board president, said he was pleased that the two sides were able to reach an agreement.
“It seems that all entities got what was necessary to make the deal,” Tolbert said in a text message to The Star.
But the contract falls far short of addressing the most serious concerns of many community members. Leaders of civil rights organizations have been joined by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker in criticizing a union contract provision that gives officers 48-hours to give a statement to investigators after shooting someone.
Activists wanted that 48-hour rule repealed, and asked for other changes including not giving officers accused of misconduct full access to evidence before they make a statement and adding drug testing after police shootings.
None of those provisions were changed in the new contract, which remains in force until 2024.
“It is a horrible agreement and this further substantiates the case for local control,” said Gwen Grant, president/CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. “[Union president] Brad Lemon and the FOP has done an outstanding job protecting the interests of police officers.
“Unfortunately, the Board of Police Commissioners has not provided that same level of protection for the citizens of Kansas City when they put their imprimatur on this bargaining agreement.”
The union contract and the lack of local control of the police department have continued to be controversial issues for the KCPD, which has been dogged for years by complaints of police brutality and a lack of accountability.
Community activists have repeatedly called for Police Chief Rick Smith to be removed, saying that he has failed to hold accountable police officers accused of using excessive force. Five white police officers are currently facing criminal charges, accused of violent crimes against Black people.
Representatives for the police union declined Friday to comment on the new contract.
The previous agreement between the police board and the union expired on Jan. 31. but the terms of the previous agreement remained in force until a new contract was signed.
The new agreement calls for Smith to appoint a police major who will serve as Education, Accountability and Disciplinary Coordinator, a newly appointed position.
That person is tasked with coordinating the police department’s disciplinary process and identifying officers who may need remedial training.
The disciplinary coordinator has the authority to review the files, statements and other evidence of officers as part of an internal affairs investigation, according to the agreement.
The coordinator can issue any discipline, including suspending an officer to up to five days without pay, if appropriate. The officer under investigation may receive a copy of the entire investigative file, including audio, video and transcribed statement. The department is permitted to request a protective order to redact all personally identifiable witness information.
No information about the internal investigation can be shared with anyone who is not representing the accused officer.
The officer is allowed to file a grievance within 14 days after any discipline is issued, according to the new contract.
According to the union contract, an officer being investigated in a shooting is given up to 48 hours before making a statement to investigators. Officers have two working days to complete reports on other use of force incidents.
On disciplinary investigations, officers are given 24 hours to obtain a lawyer and 48 hours to make a statement. The contract allows the officer under investigation to access police reports and video from the incident unless an investigator objects.
Police union representatives have said officers should be allowed to take at least two sleep cycles before giving statements because their memories can be affected by the stress from traumatic events.
Baker has previously said that those protections for are unfair because they only apply to officers and not civilians.
Campaign Zero, a national police accountability organization, has called for the provision to be removed from police union contracts.
The Justice Department, in cities where it has entered into consent decrees designed to reform troubled police departments, has required independent investigators to take statements from officers as quickly as possible, often at the scene. The KCPD is not under a consent decree.
Calls for outside investigation
The Urban League and several other groups have requested the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Kansas City police department for a pattern of civil rights violations and using excessive force, particularly against Black men.
A police spokesman said at the time, the department is already working with the Justice Department to report possible civil rights violations or excessive force under a 2015 memorandum of understanding.
On July 2, 2020, Smith signed a special order saying that all police shootings that caused death or serious injury of anyone would be investigated by an outside agency, which has been the Missouri Highway Patrol.
The special order that requires outside investigations is not a part of the contract with the police union.
The police union has filed a grievance opposing the use of outside investigators without the union’s input.