by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Catholic clergy are an important part of a new Unified Government effort here to built good police and community relations.
And it couldn’t come at a better time.
“Two years ago, I formed the Mayor’s Clergy Roundtable in an effort to stay in touch with the faith community in the city,” said Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas Mayor Mark R. Holland. “I thought it would be helpful to me, as mayor, to convene the roundtable on a regular basis.”
As an ordained Methodist minister himself, Holland knows the key role clergy can play in a community. There are approximately 300 churches in Kansas City, Kansas, alone, he said.
“I give them updates on what’s going on in the city and an opportunity to ask questions, and for them to give me input about what’s going on in the city that I need to be aware of,” said Holland.
It was coincidental that the clergy roundtable met on July 20, just one day after the murder of police Capt. Robert “Dave” Melton.
Melton’s death came two months after the murder of Kansas City, Kansas, Police Detective Brad Lancaster, who was shot on May 9 while responding to a suspicious person call.
At the end of the July roundtable, both the clergy and the mayor issued statements.
The clergy called the community to engage in “a time of reflection and discernment for how we might rise above the fear and divisions that group our nation. We cannot let tragedy and evil lead us down a dark path of suspicion and distrust.”
Holland acknowledged the deaths came at a time when the national climate had grown stormy over the issue of police and community relations, “and yet, I believe Kansas City, Kansas, will faithfully rise above this fear.”
The mayor and clergy decided to meet again in one week — on July 27 — at Donnelly College. About 50 clergy attended the meeting, including eight Catholic priests.
“It was an excellent meeting,” said Father Harold Schneider, rector of St. Peter Cathedral. “The mayor led a discussion. There was a presentation by [Deputy Chief Rodney Smith] on how the police are doing and are trained to handle certain situations, and we broke into three different discussion groups.”
The clergy came to a consensus that the issues needing to be addressed are community violence and police/community relations, said Holland.
“There’s a sense that our police department is doing a pretty good job of interacting with the community,” said Holland. “We have a lot of strengths to build on. I don’t feel like any one of the clergy was coming at this with [a sense] of a climate of mistrust like in a lot of other communities. But we do want to be proactive.”
The roundtable came up with three ideas to improve community/police relations. One is to hold a community forum in early September. A second is to create a task force and a third is to find a way to engage youth in conversation.
All three of these ideas are relatively unformed at this time and will need further development, said Holland.
The mayor appreciated the Catholic clergy participation in the roundtable.
“I would ask [Catholic clergy] — as I would all clergy — to stay engaged,” he said. “We need all the faith perspectives. We need all our collective clout to . . . address all of these very difficult issues.”