Entire Police Department Is Laid Off: ‘I Smell a Rat,’ Says One Citizen

Eight-officer force in Garden City, Missouri, is disbanded with little explanation, as an op ed explains — 'no further guidance' given

Image Credit: Screenshot, YouTube

After several other small law enforcement agencies literally went out of business throughout the past few years, another one meets its fate, after the town leaders abruptly place all its cops in an unemployed status without fair warning.

The eight-officer Garden City, Missouri police department was disbanded on November 14. Garden City Police Chief Thomas Alber said he was instructed to terminate employment of his entire police force, to include five civilian volunteers.

If that sounds like a swift slap in the face, posting the disbanding of the police department on social media was adolescent punctuation after a hired HR consultant spontaneously met the police chief and gave the marching orders for him to hand out to his police force members.

From the Garden City Police Department is the following social media (Facebook) post: “Garden City Mayor and Council Shutter Police Department: ‘At about 10:00 this [Wednesday] morning, Chief Alber was notified [by] the City of Garden City to ‘lay off’ 100 percent of the Police Department staff effective immediately. No explanation was given nor plans to staff the police department beyond the Chief. No further guidance was given for pending criminal cases or coverage of the city when the Chief is not on duty.'”

Just like that, the roughly 1,600 residents found themselves without their own police force. Just like that, another small-town cop shop bites the dust.

At the moment, Chief Alber is the sole law enforcement officer protecting Garden City.

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Per commenters (residents) on the still-active GCPD Facebook page, the swift wipe-out of the police force is likely due to budgetary woes. Reading 200-plus comments, it is crystal clear that no one saw such a drastic move coming.

No one is happy about it, either.

According to Missouri state law, since he is the only remaining cop in Garden City, the city council is required to provide the police chief ten days notice before they officially terminate him as well.

Given how it played out, the few cops on duty were sent home, for good. The off-duty police personnel were informed to not report for duty, forever. At least not at the tentatively-defunct Garden City PD.

After serving 16 years as a Garden City policeman, Richard Williams described the moment his life was jolted by an unexpected turn of events: “I got a phone call this morning [from Chief Alber] … and was told to come back to the station and I was told we no longer have a police department so pack your stuff.”

Ordinarily, when a police department goes under for whatever reason(s) — usually political and/or fiscal — a workaround on behalf of the laid-off cops is included in the end-all plans. In my area, the county or larger city law enforcement agencies agree to absorb as much personnel as possible, but they usually have their own budgetary constraints and “authorized-strength” covenants to abide. Not all cops in this kind of situation will simply switch into new uniforms of the agency agreeing to take over law enforcement services in a given formerly-sovereign town, village or city.

When I was in police service, my department experienced some growing pains as well. The chronic talk of being “taken over by the sheriff’s office” was bandied about often enough.

That was almost 20 years ago, and my cop shop is still as is, with the exception of a uniform change and different graphics across the police fleet.

As city leaders occupied and departed city hall, and as CFOs moved in and out, the same stale talk reverberated from time to time: we need to trim the budget. Budgets were shaved, indeed. But the residents always made it clear they would not stand for their police force being in the hands of another government. Outspoken they were. That was consistently clear and definitely reassuring for us cops and our families.

It sounds like the Garden City police force was not granted the same courtesy, at least not by their own government and in a timely fashion. Police jobs do not materialize overnight. Reporting for KSHB, Tod Palmer said Garden City Mayor “[Daniel] Cantrell told 41 Action News that the Lee’s Summit Police Department welcomed Garden City officers to apply for positions within its department.” Gee, that was nice of him, after firing them all.

Again, cop jobs consume plenty of processing time, even if an experienced police officer is looking to make a lateral move to another agency. The operative word here is time. Now-unemployed GCPD cops have that, plus instability and no income. Directly from the Lee’s Summit Police Department Employment page: “From the time of initial application, the hiring process can take between 3-6 months.” So much for the heads up from Mayor Cantrell. Good lookin’ out.

Incidentally, I checked the Cass County Sheriff’s Office career page and found the following bold letters telegraphed to anyone seeking to be a CCSO deputy: “There are currently no employment openings in this field.”

We the People. Garden City residents are verbose and dismayed; city council appears to be meek, dug in elsewhere like gophers. Looking at another political thread fraying over time and circumstances, the folks who make home in Garden City are already chatting about voting season pertaining to city council seats. That more than clearly telegraphs that a citizen referendum/vote regarding the police department was not held before town council officials made their hardline decision to erase the police department.

I smell karma wafting.

Garden City resident Jessica Maciel told local media she was shocked to learn her city’s police force was no more, saying, “I think the public should have been able to vote on it at least, or something.”

When media outlets went to the city hall building in Garden City, a hand-scribbled sign greeted them; that sign read “City Hall Closed Today … Thank You.”

Despite that sign, a reporter with 41 Action News caught up with Garden City Mayor Cantrell. His statement clarified why the GCPD was scrubbed away, citing, “We simply cannot afford it.”

In the case of the Garden City PD, it seems the local town council members swung a deal with the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, even though the sheriff and his deputies professed they were unaware of such a deal … until it was posted to social media.

Way to go, Mr. Mayor, way to go.

Per NBC-affiliate KSHB, Cass County Sheriff’s Captain Mitch Phillips shed some light on the matter: “We don’t have someone in Garden City 24/7, but many times when they didn’t have someone on duty, we usually respond to emergency calls down there anyway.”

“It might be a 10- or 15-minute emergency response time,” since the closest Cass County deputy was stationed in Harrisonville, approximately a dozen miles from Garden City.

Well, I am sure Garden City residents are not even remotely comforted by that news. Note that 10- to 15-minute figure is when their deputy is responding in emergency mode, with lights and sirens. One may hazard to wonder how long a non-emergency response will take. And he clarified only one deputy is assigned in Harrisonville.

That implies peril to that sole LEO. Good luck if it is a domestic violence call involving two or more combatants who are heated enough to resist the lone deputy. Horror waiting to happen, and the scene is now set.

Painting a bleak picture? Yes. It is a stark reality no matter where cops operate to keep the peace and preserve life. Garden City won’t have their man/woman in the fold, at the ready in their small enclave encompassing 2.51 square miles.

There’s more glob for the canvas, though. The last man standing clearly in a compromising position, Chief Alber publicly declared before media mics, “What hurts the most is this wanton disregard for the public safety of the community, apparently for some sort of personal vendetta, I don’t know … but it’s definitely gonna be difficult. It just made a difficult job more difficult.”

His words are strong enough — and forthright — to largely ensure his days are numbered as well. I respect his candor in providing the “personal vendetta” nugget. It is a seeming political string he tugged with those particular words. There usually are multiple wrinkles in small-town governance.

Difficult job indeed. The chief deserves better; the citizens deserve better.

Furthermore, when he says he is concerned “for the public safety of the community,” that tacitly includes his own welfare, since he is the only lawman remaining in the city at the moment. Difficult job indeed. He deserves better; the citizens deserve better.

If Mayor Cantrell claims the harsh and abrupt decision to disband the police force is precipitated by lack of funding, I can’t imagine that a severely depleted budget was only just recently noticed. Along with city council meeting behind closed doors, the seemingly knee-jerk decision comes on the heels of city officials revealing their “city is growing.”

So sudden was the no-more-police-force announcement that even the Facebook post, the only venue used to reveal the death of GCPD, was a shock to the Cass County Sheriff’s Office: “We were caught off guard. Myself and another captain were together when we got a message about the Facebook post. Next thing, we were getting a call from the sheriff [Jeff Weber] asking us what we knew.”

Ah, nothing like being blindsided by folks relying on each other, lives often in each other’s hands, yet withholding major news.

Speaking of withholding news, Garden City resident Christina Wall said the following: “It [is] amazing that right before dismantling the department during closed session (violation of sunshine law?) the MAYOR made a motion to extend his term from 2 years to 4 YEARS!!?? I smell a rat. Makes you wonder if the HR consultant [who told Chief Alber to fire all the cops] got bribed. The mayor nor the council had the stones to tell the police department themselves, they sent a consultant to do their job for them! Cowards!”

No funds for their own cops compels me to wonder how much the city paid to consult with the consultant.

Ironically, the Garden City water tower reads, “Garden City … Room to Bloom.”

For whom, residents or criminals?

As one Garden City resident said, “I hope it isn’t open season on Garden City. A lot of robberies can happen right quick.” One hopes that is not as quick as they pulled the rug from under their cops, leaving themselves vulnerable to gun-toting crazies.

This OpsLens article is used by permission. Stephen Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and field training officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a senior OpsLens contributor, a researcher, and a writer. 

Read more at OpsLens:
Respect the Rank
Dereliction of Duty

The opinions expressed by contributors and/or content partners are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of LifeZette.

meet the author

Stephen Owsinski is a LifeZette contributing editor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is also a columnist for the National Police Association.

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