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Kansas City Mayor And City Council Push Through Changes To Regain Some Control Of Police Budget

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas speaks in October with Police Chief Rick Smith at an Operation Legend update.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
In an unexpected move Thursday, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and the city council passed legislation to regain more control over the Kansas City Police Department budget. Police Chief Rick Smith, who was out of town, said he was "disheartened" that Lucas hadn't told him about the plan.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said his two-pronged plan isn’t about defunding the police, but about giving citizens more accountability. Northland city council members were livid, saying they were blindsided by a plan that could lead to an increase in crime.

In a surprise move, the Kansas City Council quickly pushed through a plan Thursday by Mayor Quinton Lucas that gives City Hall more influence over how the police department spends its city funding.

Lucas introduced the proposal that calls for reallocation of the police department’s budget, a reaction to a year of calls by social justice protestors who advocated for more local control of the Kansas City Police Department. Lucas said his plan would bring the most “transformative change” in four generations.

Since 1939, KCPD has been overseen by a five-member Board of Police Commissioners, made up of the mayor and four gubernatorial appointees.

“This is not defunding the police,” Lucas said. “What this is is actually increasing accountability for the first time in 80 years for the Kansas City Police Department and the Kansas City Council and the Kansas City mayor.”

The plan was laid out in two ordinances, which call for the city and police to negotiate more on spending that would promote violence prevention and better public safety. The council voted 9-4 on both ordinances, with the majority strongly supporting the new approach.

But the four Northland Council members were livid, saying they had been blind-sided and the proposals were being rammed through without the normal legislative vetting process.

“This is the worst piece of legislation I have ever seen down here,” said Councilwoman Teresa Loar, who is in her 14th year on the council. She argued the reallocation of funding would make the city less safe and warned her colleagues supporting the measures:

“The next murder is on your heads.”

The first ordinance takes $44 million from the police budget of about $240 million and reallocates it to what the city is calling the “community services and prevention fund,” for community engagement, outreach, prevention, intervention, and other public services. City Manager Brian Platt and the police commission would negotiate how to spend that money.

The second ordinance earmarks an additional $3 million for a new police academy class.

Councilman Dan Fowler, also a Northlander, said he had just learned about the proposals a few hours earlier, shortly before they were introduced. Normally, newly-introduced ordinances go to a committee for a full debate and public testimony.

“This is not daylight,” Fowler complained of the hasty adoption. “This is government in the dark.”

But Councilman Brandon Ellington, who represents the urban core, argued these ordinances will foster more negotiation with the police department on community policing and other progressive approaches to crime.

“I don’t look at this legislation as anything that is punitive towards law enforcement,” Ellington said. “We have an entire city that has been bleeding and requesting police reforms…..this is something that is vital to our citizens.

The other council members from south of the Missouri River agreed with Lucas that, as the murder rate has soared, the city council needs more confidence that the police are wisely spending the huge amounts of funding that the city provides.

For his part, Police Chief Rick Smith issued a statement saying he was "disheartened" that Lucas and other council members hadn't reached out before the press conference announcing the plan.

"At these meetings, we discuss performance and statistics from each bureau, including crime, budgets, policy and other matters," he said. "The mayor and the other sponsoring council members have not previously mentioned this proposal, so our discussions about it are just beginning.”

A police spokesman said Smith was currently out of town on department business.

Smith has been vocal about how current hiring freezes are depleting his staff and negatively impacting services by potentially increasing response times. In a blog post last week, Smith complained that the hiring freeze could mean cuts to youth services programs and anti-drug initiatives.

Lucas’s two-part plan calls for reducing the KCPD budget to 20 percent of the city’s revenues, which is required by Missouri law. Last year the KCPD budget was $238 million, the most of any city department, eating up 25.8 percent of general revenue.

Noting that the Missouri Legislature debated bills on police budgets and officers’ residency requirements, Lucas said no money was allocated for policing recommendations the new fund would provide.

“We want to make sure we can make these determinations here in Kansas City and not just defer to Jefferson City to come up with solutions to violent crime that have nothing to with actually solving crime in Kansas City,” Lucas said.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
Lynn Horsley is a freelance writer in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.
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