A Kansas City resident has raised serious questions after accusing police of refusing to investigate burglaries without a warrant – a change that, if true, was made in secret by police.
Daniel Fox claims in a lawsuit filed Aug. 12 that a Kansas City police captain told him the department now requires a warrant for house searches, a change made after police Det. Eric was convicted in March. DeValkenaere in the shooting death of a black man. at his home.
Fox says he was told this change in policy was the reason officers left without entering his neighbor’s home after Fox called to report what appeared to be a break-in in progress.
Claims made in a lawsuit are one-sided and must be verified. But in this case, the police department has made it unclear whether or not the policy change Fox claims he was told was made. This is due to the department’s indefensible decision to remove large parts of the policy dealing with these circumstances.
This the policy is listed on the ministry’s website, but go ahead and try to make sense of it. You will quickly find that large chunks are redacted. A police spokeswoman said these redactions are done in accordance with Missouri Sun Law and are sometimes done by department attorneys.
This shouldn’t happen. At least one police board member, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, agrees.
“Why publish a policy and then redact it?” asked Lucas, who is one of five members of the police commission. “It’s disappointing.”
Last week, Jackson County District Attorney Jean Peters Baker tried to clear things up, saying the officer misstated police policy. But Baker also acknowledged that she didn’t know how widespread misinformation was within the police department and that she had heard it in some cases.
Even though the policy hasn’t officially changed — something the public shouldn’t be left guessing — it’s possible officers will react to advice provided by department prosecutors in the wake of the DeValkenaere case.
This is precisely what KMBC reported last week, when the KCPD told them that after the DeValkenaere decision police employees were asked to read a legal bulletin hidden under a litigation exception provision in the state open archives law.
Police spokeswoman Donna Drake said in an email to the editorial board that legal bulletins are “completely closed” to the public by Missouri Sunshine Law.
She is correct that the provision protects communications between attorneys and the police board involving litigation. But it’s not designed to cover policy briefs for rank-and-file police, even if they’re disguised as “legal work product.”
If it is true that official policy has not changed, but that officers are acting on the advice of departmental lawyers, then the public has a right to know.
As for the policy’s deletions, we asked St. Louis civil rights attorney Elad Gross, an open government expert, if that makes sense. “A policy is not a privileged communication between the government agency and its lawyers,” Gross said. “It is a document produced for the police to follow.”
Such a policy should be widely available, so the public knows what to expect from officers when calling on them for help. If the department hides any of this information, it should stop.
Acting police chief Joseph Mabin told The Star last week that he was “always concerned when a citizen’s perception of our actions does not inspire confidence”.
He should be worried. Fortunately, this problem has a simple solution. If the police change an important policy – like how officers respond to calls to crime – they should reveal the secret to the public. Policy changes should be posted on the ministry’s website. Moreover, the same is essentially true of the advice of lawyers when this advice serves as the basis for policy.