Kansas City Police Will Settle Lawsuits Rather Than Reform The Department

The Kansas City community attend a protest in rememberance of Black lives lost at the hands of Kansas City police on June 10, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Kansas City community attend a protest in rememberance of Black lives lost at the hands of Kansas City police on June 10, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Last week, the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners reached a $5 million agreement to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of Terrence Bridges Jr., per The Kansas City Star. Bridges was fatally shot by a Kansas City police officer back in 2019. Though settlements in police brutality cases are common nationally, this is only one of many agreements Kansas City reached due to the actions of their police department.

Bridges was a suspect in a carjacking when officers pursued him, per the report. When the officers found him, he tried to flee. Officer Dylan Pifer caught up with him, leading to a struggle and then a fatal shot to the chest. Pifer claimed Bridges was trying to reach for a gun in his pocket. However, Bridges was unarmed. The family alleged in their civil suit that the officer used excessive force.

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The police board approved a payout of $5 million in the agreement - the biggest payout from the department so far but certainly not the first.

The department reached a $110,000 settlement with the family of a 15-year-old girl who was pepper sprayed by officers during a protest in January. The following month, they paid $900,000 to Tyree Bell, a teen held in jail without charge for three weeks. A disabled man won $250,000 in settlement in October after KCPD officers refused to let him use his wheelchair during an arrest. Later that month, the department paid the family of Brian Prince, a man who died after being tackled by a KCPD officer, a settlement of $500,000.

Local activists noticed the trend as well as the lack of accountability for the department.

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Community activists and faith leaders have criticized the department for its handling of officers accused of shooting Black residents and using excessive force.

“The fact of the matter is Dylan Pifer should have been prosecuted for killing Terrence Bridges,” said Gwen Grant, president/CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. “It is unconscionable to me that he is still employed by KCPD and we, the taxpayers, are paying the cost for his crime.”

Grant continued: “The Board of Police Commissioners continues to operate under a veil of secrecy that is disrespectful and harmful to our community. Their behavior, this settlement, Dylan Pifer killing an unarmed Black man with impunity are all reasons we need local control of our police department.”

According to the Kansas City Beacon, the department usually has between $5 and $13.5 million left over from its annual budget. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas told the Beacon he suspected much of those leftover funds go toward settlements like Bridges’. Apparently, the department already has a separate $4.8 million budget for lawsuits specifically.

The Kansas City Star said this year the KCPD spent $8.3 million on lawsuit settlements related to police brutality.

After spending millions of dollars, the city’s officers are still protected by qualified immunity and their “training” has not improved the interactions people have with the police. Civil suit settlements may bring comfort but they do not bring justice without proper accountability.

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