© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Hundreds Of Kansas City Northland Residents Rally Against Police Budget Plan, Denounce Mayor

Francis Slobodnik, local leader of the American Society for the Defense of Traditional Family and Property, lead prayers outside a Northland town hall meeting Thursday night where more than 500 people turned out to support Kansas City Police.
Peggy Lowe
KCUR 89.3
Francis Slobodnik, left, a local leader of the American Society for the Defense of Traditional Family and Property, lead prayers outside the Northland town hall meeting Thursday night where more than 500 people turned out to support Kansas City Police.

People spilled out of a packed town hall meeting Thursday night, angrily denouncing Mayor Quinton Lucas’s plan to reallocate part of the police budget towards more crime prevention programs.

A rowdy crowd of 500 people packed into a Northland hall Thursday night, calling Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas’ plan to reallocate the police budget a betrayal of residents and their support for law enforcement.

While some prayed for the Kansas City Police Department on the street outside the town hall meeting, inside hundreds praised police. Many wore “back the blue” T-shirts, others held signs that said “Defend the police!” and booed the rare speaker who supported Lucas’ plan.

A dozen KCPD cruisers sat outside the meeting at the Northland Neighborhoods, Inc., office outside a shopping center, with uniformed officers providing security and many officers in the crowd in plain clothes. The standing-room-only crowd that spilled out into the parking lot took on the feel of a police pep rally.

“Do the people in this room support the Kansas City Police Department?” one speaker yelled.

Yes! the crowd roared back.

“Do the people in this room support Chief (Rick) Smith and the Board of Police Commissioners?” he asked.

Yeah! the crowd again came back, adding hoots and applause.

City Councilman Dan Fowler had to quiet the meeting twice when people booed and catcalled the few people speaking in support of Lucas’ plan. One speaker who got shouted down said the crowd was “a sea of white, a sea of privilege, people who have never had to live in fear.”

The meeting capped a dramatic week after Lucas first pushed his plan through the city council, getting eight supporters, but no votes from the four Northland council members. They, and two Kansas City-area state lawmakers, have called on Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to hold aspecial legislative session to undo Lucas’ plan.

The plan calls for moving one-fifth of the police department budget — roughly $42 million — away from police control to a fund that gives the mayor and city council some say in where it’s spent. They want that money to fund crime prevention programs, study the roots of violent crime and pay for other social services.

The Board of Police Commissioners has a special closed meeting set for Friday, the second this week, where the panel’s plan for a lawsuit is expected to be formed. Brad Lemon, head of the local Fraternal Order of Police, told the crowd he was “ashamed” of the city and Lucas’ plan and that the police board should sue. He said the city had 1,460 sworn officers in 2007 and now has 1,250, and that it could get worse.

“The elections are coming up and there are nine people you better not support,” he said, referring to the mayor and the eight city council members who voted for the plan.

The vocal opposition is a dramatic turnaround in the Northland for Lucas, who got considerable support for his 2019 election in the area and was even endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police.

“He’s laughing at you. He’s laughing at me,” Rhonda Arreguin said to cheers and several people standing up in support. “He’s laughing at all of us.”

Arreguin said she was going to file a lawsuit on Friday that seeks to get her payroll earnings tax back because the council was representing her interests.

The meeting also became a forum for many speakers to complain about poor services in northern parts of the city.

“We feel shorted up here in the Northland and now we’re being shorted by our elected officials,” said Tim Johnston, a Briarcliff resident who was wearing an NYPD cap.

To the four council members and one state lawmaker who were listening to speakers, Johnston told them: “Give ‘em hell!”

Melesa Johnson, a special advisor to Lucas and a former Jackson County prosecutor, told the crowd that the mayor’s plan was not an effort to defund the police and the best term to use is “reroute,” not reallocation of funds.

“It’s going right back where it came from, you all,” she said.

Johnson said the KCPD has not been as transparent as it should be and never discusses crime reduction strategies.

Johnson said she came from a tough Kansas City neighborhood where she was first exposed to violent crime at 12-years-old. The city’s high homicide rate is not news to many people, she said.

“This crisis is not new,” Johson said. “Kansas City has always been dangerous in certain pockets of it.”

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.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.