The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners passed several policy reforms at their meeting on March 23, 2021 at police headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. Policies modified included the First Amendment Protected Activities policy and the Internally Recorded Digital Media Policy.
The policy relating to body cameras outlined the intended procedures for body camera use. The Police Department first formally announced plans to implement body cameras in June 2020 and announced their initial implementation in January 2021. At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board of Police Commissioners approved the expenditure of $795,203 for the purchase of body cameras, using a combination of federal dollars from Operation Legend and a grant from the Kansas City Police Foundation.
According to the most recent press release from the department about the Internally Recorded Digital Media Policy, body cameras must be used by all police officers for the full extent of all interactions with citizens. Digital footage recorded via body cameras will only be stored for 180 days, unless it is considered evidence in a criminal investigation. Longer storage times have reportedly not been implemented because the cost of doing so would be outside the current budget.
Parts of the body camera policy were “reworded for clarity” prior to the policy’s passage on March 23, according to department officials who spoke during the meeting. The only wording change highlighted during the meeting was a portion of the policy in which “members should activate their body worn camera at the outset of each contact” with a citizen was changed to “members will activate.”
The second of the two policies, the First Amendment Protected Activities Policy, was introduced at the February Board of Police Commissioners Meeting and approved during the March meeting. The policy sets forth guidelines for officers to follow when engaging with protesters and others engaged in First Amendment protected activities. These guidelines include steps to follow when a group’s activities have been designated by the police as unlawful assembly. Specifically, the policy prohibits police from using less than lethal weapons or from using “munitions (other than chemical agents)” to disperse such groups, according to the department’s most recent press release about the policy. The use of less than lethal weapons by the Kansas City Police Department to disperse protestors last summer was controversial because it reportedly resulted in serious injuries for some members of the community.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the board also reviewed regular statistics reports that indicated a continuation of the trend over the last several years of increased homicides rates year over year. The board discussed concerns over decreases in performances in divisions like DUI, Narcotics & Vice, and Parking Control, as well as a decrease in the number of cases submitted to the prosecutor for various divisions.
Chief Rick Smith cited loss of staff as the main reason for these lags. Acting Deputy Chief Mike Hicks also mentioned in his report on the regional crime lab’s performance, “We are seeing an increase in people leaving” the department - up 45 year to date in 2021, from 33 year to date in 2020.
The board is set to meet Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 1 p.m. for a special meeting related to the budget, and will meet again the following Tuesday, April 27, at 9:30 a.m. for their regular meeting.