Police board departure gives Kansas City a chance to break the cycle of violence

·3 min read

Nathan Garrett’s decision to leave the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners gives Gov. Mike Parson, and the community, a real chance for police reform — and a police department connected with the city, not at war with it.

Garrett’s resignation from the police board was submitted Friday and made public Monday. His four-year term expired in March, but under state law he continued to serve.

In an email, Garrett said he was moving out of the city, to Smithville. In his resignation letter, Garrett defended his record on the Police Board.

“We … have always strived to confront the challenges with integrity, purpose and an unwavering desire to do the right thing, even if unpopular,” he wrote.

Garrett will not be missed. Appointed to his position by disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens, Garrett turned out to be a cheerleader for Police Chief Rick Smith and little else. He was particularly tone deaf when asked by the community, repeatedly, to reconsider the way Kansas City enforces its laws.

Kansas City set a record for homicides during Garrett’s tenure.

There is more. Garrett is a partner in Graves Garrett, a law firm which includes former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves. Parson recently muscled Graves onto the Missouri Board of Curators, giving the law firm enormous power in state and local government.

One of the lawyers employed by Graves Garrett is Lucinda Luetkemeyer, the spouse of Missouri state Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer of Parkville. He’s the state lawmaker who pushed a new law allowing Kansas City police officers to live outside the city limits.

Sen. Luetkemeyer is also at the front of the parade of nonresidents threatening Mayor Quinton Lucas and others for their audacity in seeking accountability for the police. The potential for a conflict involving Nathan Garrett’s service on the police board and the Luetkemeyers seems clear.

Now Parson will name a replacement. We urge him to reach out to community groups and Kansas City leaders and seek their input on a qualified person to help lead the department. At this time, in this place, the choice for a new police board member is critical.

Politics must play no role — repeat, no role — in this decision. The whole point of a police board is to take politics out of policing. Sadly, Nathan Garrett failed that standard.

To be clear: If Kansas City had full control of its police department, which is the case in every other major American city, Garrett’s replacement would not be an issue. Nor would Garrett’s service. We continue to believe local control of the police department should be a top priority for local policy makers.

Since the BOPC system remains in place, however, the governor has the deep responsibility to name someone connected with the entire community, and with new ideas about policing and law enforcement.

To that end, Lucas sent a letter to his police board colleagues Monday, suggesting a new approach to debating police issues before the city. He wants a monthly report on witness protection, a reaction no doubt to the news that the department has rarely used the tools given to it by Jefferson City.

Gun violence should be the first agenda item each month, Lucas believes. Neighborhood groups should be invited to testify. He called for a more robust study of staffing histories, crime data and decision-making.

All are good suggestions. The police board must turn its attention from protecting Chief Smith from criticism, and toward helping the department reduce violent crime and murder. There can be no other priority.

Nathan Garrett’s decision to leave his position is a good start to that effort. If the governor can find an appropriate replacement, it will be the first good news to come from that 12th and Locust meeting room in some time.

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