KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- Kansas City has one more week to put together its legal response to a lawsuit filed over the police budget and who gets control of it.
But the biggest “what’s next” in the battle now has to do with the Missouri and United States Constitutions.
“It will be interesting to see how big the judge is willing to let this case get,” said St. Louis University Law School Professor Brendan Roediger.
Urban League President and CEO Gwen Grant on Monday filed what’s known as a motion to intervene, citing the Missouri Constitution’s Hancock Amendment and the United States Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
The motion begins by detailing what was behind the Civil-War-era concept of a state board running a local police department in St. Louis and continues to break down what remains a major demographic difference between the state and its two biggest cities.
State control of police in Missouri began in the 1800s, motivated, the court motion argues, by governors ideologically opposed to electorates in St. Louis and Kansas City, which were “more sympathetic to African-American civil rights than the rest of Missouri.”
“That’s not a fake story. That’s the real story. That's the truth for St. Louis and for Kansas City,” Roediger chimed in, adding that the storyline changed for Kansas City in the 1930s after the city gained local control for seven years then lost it due to claims of corruption under the Pendergast political machine.
He said it’s apt framing for the contemporary issue at hand: city lawmakers who want to try new approaches to crime prevention but are stuck in a system where the city provides funding for the police department, then has no say over how it’s allocated.
That is regulated by a Board of Police Commissioners, comprised of the mayor and four commissioners appointed by the governor.
“This is not about defunding the police,” Grant said Monday. “This is about the police being accountable to the city that they serve. This is about taxation without representation. This is about taking our fight to court to seek remedy after decades upon decades of injustice.”
Grant is seeking to intervene as a taxpayer - more specifically - an African American taxpayer.
The motion notes that African Americans are nearly 30% of KC’s population but less than 12% of the state population - and political representation follows accordingly.
“By making the composition of 80% of the Board of Police Commissioners dependent on the outcome of the gubernatorial election, African-American Kansas Citians are deprived on political influence in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” one section of the motion read.
Roediger described the stronger of the equal protection arguments as “this voting argument that the board itself dilutes the vote of Kansas City residents, and in particular dilutes the votes of African-American Kansas City residents.”
He said he had no strong educated guess as to whether the judge will rule favorably to that motion.
A new judge was assigned Tuesday.
The lawsuit was filed late last month by the Board of Police Commissioners after a majority of city council voted to retroactively reduce its police budget allocation to the minimum required by law then place the remainder in a fund to be negotiated under contract with the Board. The Board filed suit to have the budget returned in its original form. The previous judge did order the city to temporarily put the budget back to how it was before.