Overland Park mayoral candidates on the issues: Transparency and trust

Overland Park Wards mayoral candidates discuss plans to rebuild trust and between the city and residents. Above, Sheila Albers has pressed for an investigation into how the city handled a severance agreement with the former Overland Park police officer who shot and killed her son. Filed image.

In August, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for Overland Park Mayor address.

Based on your feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to the citizens of Overland Park.

Each day this week, we have published the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Today, we are publishing candidates’ responses to the final question:

The John Albers case has raised significant issues about transparency and forthrightness from Overland Park officials. What does the city need to do to address this issue and rebuild trust between the city and residents?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on the issue:

Curt Skoog

January 20, 2018, was a tragic day for the Albers family and the entire City of Overland Park. John Albers, 17, was killed by an Overland Park Police Officer. Like many of you, I watched the publicly released videos of this terrible event and was shocked and heartbroken for the family.

Within hours the Johnson County Multi-Jurisdictional Officer Involved Shooting Investigative Team (OISIT) was activated by the District Attorney’s office to investigate. No Overland Park police officers participated in this investigation. The OISIT report was provided to the District Attorney for review. The District Attorney determined there would not be any criminal charges against the officer.

The Office of Professional Standards within the Overland Park Police Department reviewed the incident and reported to the Chief of Police that no violation of department policy had occurred.

The City Manager, who is responsible for hiring and firing city employees, determined that he had no legal cause to fire the officer involved. Believing that the officer should not continue as an Overland Park Police Officer, a severance agreement was negotiated with his attorney for his departure.

A second independent investigation of the officer-involved shooting was completed by the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training (CPOST). CPOST presented its investigation to the Commission Investigative Committee, which closed the matter with no action or recommendation.

As council member and as the former Chair of the Overland Park Public Safety Committee of the City Council, I directed and supported many improvements to the Overland Park Police Department. These included:

  • changing the police policy that increased restrictions on shooting at moving vehicles,
  • providing body-worn cameras to all police officers in the field,
  • expanding the Crisis Intervention Team training to all officers,
  • expanding use of Mental Health Co-responders,
  • creating an 11-member Behavioral Health Unit within the police department that will be focused on assisting residents with mental health challenges, which is included in next year’s approved budget.

It is my hope that these actions will prevent a repeat of this tragic incident in the future.

Public confidence in our police department is vital to the community’s success. As Mayor, I will lead the council to create a citizen oversight process that will assure confidence in the people who protect and serve the residents of Overland Park.

Mike Czinege

The first step in the process is to fully address this matter. Trust can only be rebuilt and lessons can only be learned to prevent future tragedies if city leaders, including the mayor and council members will admit to the fact that the investigation of this matter was grossly mishandled. My opponent in the Mayor’s race has remained silent throughout this matter, and even today despite having the bully pulpit of being on the city council has yet to offer any action toward a resolution of this matter. We can’t fix the problem if those in leadership refuse to acknowledge the problem. Sticking one’s head in the sand does not solve the issue.

When elected mayor, I intend to rebuild trust in the community with our city leadership, law enforcement, and residents by gathering all organizations involved in the investigation of the case and order a full disclosure of all relevant facts, findings, and conclusions, including the explanation of events surrounding the separation between the officer and the city. All disclosures must be complete and unaltered, and fully transparent.

Next, there must be accountability of organizations and individuals that were responsible for any biased findings or any incomplete prior disclosures. There may need to be an investigation into the investigation process to determine who or what organizations were responsible for the delay and incomplete disclosures. This is about getting to the bottom of an ongoing cover-up and obstruction of transparency. We must restore accountability to our city leadership and administration.

At that point we can conduct an analysis of the process used and determine what improvements need to be made to the investigation process. We should also research other cities that have a best practice in this type of investigation. All parties need to work together to find acceptable solution that yields transparency and accountability to the investigation process.

Read these candidates’ responses to questions about camaraderie and collegiality to city council, city’s use of tax incentives, flooding and climate change and changes to the city’s budget