Elected Cass County officials are banding together to combat crime with the formation of the new Cass County Crime Coalition. Noticeably absent from the list of participating jurisdictions is the City of Raymore, but city leaders have their reasons for holding out.
On May 18, county and city officials held a signing ceremony at the historical courthouse in Harrisonville to launch the Cass County Crime Coalition. The coalition is the first step of a three-prong, countywide initiative to get state, county and municipal agencies working together to fight crime.
Step two of the initiative includes the formation of an intelligence and analysis group. The final phase will create a law enforcement task force. All three stages will require interagency agreements.
Although information regarding what that will entail is sparse as of press time, the Cass County Crime Coalition is acting as an advisory board developing a comprehensive plan. The coalition includes Cass County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Butler, Cass County Sheriff Jeff Weber, and mayors from Belton, Harrisonville, Lake Winnebago, Peculiar and Pleasant Hill.
In part, the Cass County Crime Coalition is similar to a lobbying group advocating on behalf of the county in Jefferson City. With strength in numbers, the coalition is more likely to get legislation favorable for fighting crime in Cass County passed in Jefferson City.
For example, fleeing from law enforcement is a misdemeanor if no one is hurt or killed. Weber has been trying to get legislation passed that will make fleeing law enforcement an automatic felony. Unforeseen circumstances have stalled that legislation, including one instance when the legislation was approaching the finish line before Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt indicated he would not support the bill, Raymore Mayor Kristofer Turnbow remarked during a December council work session.
However, Rep. Mike Haffner, who represents Cass County in the Missouri House of Representatives, plans to reintroduce the legislation. If the coalition were to make that issue a priority, it may have a better chance of moving such legislation through the Statehouse.
“To quote Harrisonville Police Chief John Hofer, ‘We are better together,’” Weber said.
Raymore needs more info
Poised to surpass Belton as the biggest city in the county, Raymore is not participating in the coalition. At least not right away.
In March, Raymore’s city council voted 7-1 to table a resolution that would have authorized the mayor to join the Cass County Crime Coalition. Council Member Joseph Burke III was the lone vote against tabling the resolution.
Introduced to the council on March 14, Resolution 22-10 appoints Mayor Kristofer Turnbow to the Cass County Crime Coalition’s advisory board. However, council members expressed concerns regarding some unanswered questions.
During a council work session last December, Sheriff Weber explained to Raymore city leaders that the coalition will be a non-policymaking advisory board that would get together quarterly to discuss crime-related issues affecting the entire county. Weber’s proposal at the time included getting six “core” municipalities on board from the start, including Raymore, before recruiting the remaining Cass County municipalities.
Council Members Reginald Townsend and Sonja Abdelgawad asked Weber why mayors are on the coalition rather than city police chiefs. Weber explained that the Cass County Crime Coalition is more political in nature, whereas other portions of the countywide initiative addressing crime will be more in the area of law enforcement, including the future task force.
Townsend was also concerned about the future task force taking away from Raymore Police Department’s staff, which the council member suggested the department is lacking. In response, Weber said the task force is designed to work the other way around. For example, the task force could step in to help a short-staffed Raymore Police Department deal with a hypothetical car theft ring in the city.
Weber also stated that he does not want to be in a situation where the coalition must have open records or meeting minutes, which concerned Council Member Jay Holman. City Attorney Jonathan Zerr echoed those concerns by stating more information is needed regarding the organization of the group. Those questions did not appear to be answered by the March council meeting. However, Weber told The Raymore Journal that the coalition will be recording all of its meetings.
Holman was also concerned about the lobbying nature of the Cass County Crime Coalition. Lobbying groups are regulated at the state and federal levels. According to Zerr, anyone speaking at the Statehouse on behalf of the coalition would have to be careful about how they represent themselves to exploit a loophole regarding educating the state legislature rather than lobbying.
In theory, Raymore can participate in the second and third phases of the countywide crime initiative without being part of the Cass County Crime Coalition in phase one. Although the task force in phase three is much later down the road, the intelligence/analysis group is already loosely formed and conducting meetings.
City Manager Jim Feuerborn stated during the work session with the sheriff that in order to sign the resolution with the coalition, “a significant amount of changes” need to be made. Those changes did not appear to come in time for the council’s vote in March.
Weber told The Raymore Journal that Mayor Turnbow “has been an adamant supporter from the inception of the program,” and is confident Raymore will join the coalition once more details are smoothed out. The sheriff also pointed out that Feuerborn has gone “above and beyond” by drafting legal documents.
Regarding stepping on the city’s policies, Weber said that the coalition will not replace any municipality’s law enforcement policies. However, the Cass County Crime Coalition will help departments create policies that currently do not exist.
However, the sheriff will have jurisdiction over the upcoming task force.
As of press time, the coalition still needs to take care of some housekeeping items, including establishing meeting dates and bylaws.
“Historic first step”
The Cass County Crime Coalition is funded by the county commission. Expecting the coalition to grow, Cass County Commissioner Bob Huston said the commission will continue to fund the coalition.
Cass County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Butler spent his time at the podium acknowledging the participating jurisdictions.
“It’s good for them to represent their constituents,” Butler said. “That means public safety is paramount, to them personally and to where they come from.”
Butler also said this kind of collaboration “does not exist” in other nearby counties.
“Cass County does it different,” Butler said. “If you don’t live here, you should, because in Cass County, we care about law enforcement. We have the best law enforcement at a time when others don’t.”
Harrisonville Mayor Judy Bowman cited an article she read that claims people from coastal areas have been moving to the Midwest since the pandemic began. Bowman said those people want more space and safety. She also acknowledged that current residents want to continue to enjoy that safety.
“This is cutting-edge law enforcement,” she said. “We’re proud to be a part of that.”
Belton Police Chief Scott Lyons is calling the Cass County Crime Coalition a “historic first step.”
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