By Jane Stoever
The people won. At least in part.
The Board of Commissioners of the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte County on July 16 established a Community Integrity Unit—for independent oversight of police—by allocating $133,000 for 1.5 employees through fiscal year 2021. This landmark decision followed a July 13 budget hearing at which four PeaceWorks Board members and 10 others testified for the Community Integrity Unit, a watchdog to monitor police.
“We, as citizens of Kansas City, Kansas, have no trust in the KCK police department,” Christopher Overfelt, a PeaceWorks Board member, testified July 13. “This department has shown time and again an unwillingness to hold its officers accountable when they break the law. We’ve had enough of police abusing the citizens they are supposed to protect.”
Overfelt advised, “We need to redirect funding away from police and put it into community programs that will truly benefit our citizens. The first step … is funding the Community Integrity Unit so that we can hold abusive police officers accountable.”
Ann Suellentrop, in her testimony, charged, “One former prostitute swore in an affidavit that ‘when Detective Roger Golubski or any of the other officers he brought with him came to the Bottoms, we knew we had a choice of providing sexual services or getting arrested.’” Suellentrop, a nurse and longtime PeaceWorks Board member, called for the police oversight board and a bilingual hotline for people to call in complaints. “This is needed,” she said, “because it makes no sense to me to just let the police investigate themselves. … The nursing profession, as well as many other professions, all have outside oversight boards to hold them accountable.”
Kristin Scheer, another PeaceWorks Board member, objected, “Police forces sometimes seem more about subjugating than serving.” In Wyandotte County, Scheer said, Lamonte McIntyre was recently released “after serving 23 years of a sentence for a crime of which he was falsely accused, falsely prosecuted, and falsely incarcerated.”
Scheer noted that Golubski “is now comfortably retired from the force” and said many of the women with whom he was associated were murdered or terrorized “in yet uninvestigated and unsolved crimes.”
PeaceWorks Board member Charles Carney testified, as others did, on behalf of the Community Integrity Unit, a bilingual hotline, and a Wyandotte County Safe and Welcoming ordinance. “Wyandotte County is the second most diverse county in the nation,” testified Carney, “and it is time we start acting like it!” Speaking as a resident of the KCK Prescott neighborhood for 16 years, Carney said, “For too long now, as a person of white privilege, I have stood by and been silent about the oppression and mistreatment” of his diverse neighbors. He continued, “Yes, oppression in the form of shutting out immigrants and undocumented workers from life-giving access to basic rights and services. … I am tired of the fact that Wyco’s black and brown populations are hugely disproportionately imprisoned in local jails and prisons.”
Carney and others testifying sought the Wyandotte County Safe and Welcoming ordinance promoted by the group MORE2 (Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity) in KCK. The Unified Government commissioners took no action on the proposed ordinance, but the budget they approved July 16 included the Community Integrity Unit, and political analysts said the bilingual hotline would most likely be part of the new oversight process.
—Jane Stoever is a member of PeaceWorks-KC.