Laying out a central theme of his first-year agenda, Missouri Gov.-elect Eric Greitens told a group of law enforcement officers, recruits and their families Tuesday that he would have their back when he takes office next week.
“I know and understand what it means to put on body armor and carry a sidearm, to say good night to your family and step into the dark and do dangerous work,” Greitens, a Republican, said in a speech at the Kansas City Regional Police Academy. “I want all of our first responders to know when you’re out every night putting your lives on the line, you have—from the governor on down—people who are going to support you in doing that work.”
Greitens' visit to the Northland was one of more than a dozen stops on a statewide tour this week designed to thank his supporters and honor groups who he says demonstrate Missouri values.
Last week, Greitens named public safety issues as among his top legislative priorities for this year’s session, including implementing a “blue alert” system to track down those accused of injuring or killing law enforcement officers and stiffening penalties for those actions.
“When I’m governor, we’re going to bring the full force of the justice system against anyone who assaults one of our law enforcement officers,” Greitens said.
Greitens spoke multiple times, as he did throughout the campaign, of the 2014 events in Ferguson, Missouri, when riots erupted following the shooting by police of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American man. Greitens called the loss of life "a tragedy ... that career politicians turned into a disaster.” He described a “Ferguson effect," a disputed idea that increased police scrutiny has led to a higher crime rate (as police officers become less proactive) and lower staff morale (resulting in more difficulty recruiting officers to the force).
"If our leaders had shown up, some kind of command presence and courage and calm and clarity, I believe that we could have had peace by the second night,” Greitens said. “Our state was humiliated around the world. I’m here to tell you, that won’t happen on my watch.”
Greitens also definitively ended speculation about the possibility that the Kansas City Police Department might return to local control under his administration.
“I’ve talked with all of our officers here, and we’re going to maintain state control over the Kansas City Police Department, and that’s because that’s what our officers want,” Greitens told reporters after the address. “They want to have a strong governor who has their back who’s going to support them, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The crowd filling the police academy auditorium was supportive, interrupting Greitens repeatedly with applause. Among them were some of the current class of recruits to the Kansas City Police Department, as well as a tactical response unit. Just before the speech, Greitens worked out with them, executing push-ups, sit-ups and burpees for 20 minutes. The former Navy SEAL, dressed in a KCPD T-shirt and long pants, kept pace and worked up a sweat.
“He's in shape,” one of the officers was heard to say after the workout.
Greitens' tour took him to Kirksville and St. Joseph earlier Tuesday. He finished the evening with an event for supporters at Garozzo’s Restaurant in Lee’s Summit.