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As Kansas City Police Resist City Control, Department Refuses To Respond To Audits

090221_cm_KCPDPoliceCar
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
The department’s refusal to cooperate with a 2016 audit highlights a longstanding frustration on the part of city leaders, who must fund the police department but then relinquish control over how the money is spent.

Five years after the Kansas City Auditor’s Office released recommendations to improve KCPD’s take-home vehicle policies, there has still been no response from the department.

The Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department should monitor how often employees who are granted “take home” police cars actually respond to after-hour emergencies. It should consider prohibiting employees from transporting family or friends with department vehicles. And it should track how much the use of take-home vehicles costs the department.

These were three of the 11 recommendations included in a 2016 audit of the department’s use of take-home vehicles. Five years later, the city auditor’s office still hasn’t heard from KCPD about whether any of its recommendations were ever adopted.

The department’s refusal to cooperate highlights a longstanding frustration on the part of city leaders, who must fund the police department but then relinquish control over how the money is spent.

The city auditor’s office uses an Audit Report Tracking System to track the follow-up to its recommendations. These reports are filled out by the department that was audited.

Once an ARTS report is filed, the implementation status of recommendations is reported to the City Council. The check-in process continues every six months until every recommendation has been designated as “implemented” or “not implemented.”

The problem? KCPD has never submitted an ARTS report for the take-home vehicle audit. The department is governed by a state entity, the Board of Police Commissioners, not by the city. Lack of local control means there’s no easy way to make the department comply with the rules of a city audit.

A pattern of silence from KCPD chiefs on audit

Emails obtained by The Kansas City Beacon through a public records request show City Auditor Douglas Jones has been requesting an ARTS report for the take-home vehicle audit from KCPD since early 2017.

The first email, addressed to then-Police Chief Darryl Forté, included a link to the audit report and a request for the department to complete an ARTS report that could be shared with the city manager. Forté never responded.

In November 2017, Jones sent another email, this time to the new chief, Rick Smith. He pointed out that the city auditor’s office never received an ARTS report from Smith’s predecessor and again requested the report be completed.

Smith responded and said the audit was being reviewed by the Board of Police Commissioners and promised a reply once the board completed its review. That reply never arrived.

Jones reached out again in April 2019, June 2019, September 2019 and November 2019. Each time, the emails received no response from Smith. In 2020, Jones responded to an inquiry from a police liaison about what the office was missing from the department. The last email Jones sent, dated Feb. 2 of this year, has still not received a response.

Who is the Police Department accountable to?

Most city departments are beholden to Section 2-112 in the City Code of Ordinances, which states that “each city department, board, commission, or other office of the city audited by the city auditor shall submit progress reports to the city auditor every six months on the implementation of audit report recommendations.”

KCPD has its own resolution governing how to respond to a city audit, which was enacted by the Board of Police Commissioners in 1999, according to Jones. The chief of police is required to submit an implementation status report to the board within six months of a 90-day review period granted to the board and council. It’s expected that the city auditor will receive a courtesy copy of the report.

“We’ve never seen that,” Jones said. “If one’s been done, it was never sent to us.”

While city council members can request an update on the status of audit implementations, that sends the auditor’s office back to square one: emailing the police chief.

The Kansas City Beacon reached out to KCPD to verify if any of the audit recommendations have been implemented. Capt. Leslie Forman said in an email that the department could not speak directly about whether each recommendation was implemented.

“Being that this was five years ago, I do not know what was implemented or when,” she said. “And even if something was implemented, it is possible that it has changed again since then, simply due to the time frame.”

Gathering the information from the department’s fleet operations unit, which oversees the take-home vehicle policy, could take “quite a bit of effort” and time, she added. The most recent policy listed on the department’s website is from 2015, before the audit took place.

Forman said that the audit was discussed with the board during Forté’s time as chief, and its members chose to take no action at that time.

Audit found take-home vehicle costs untracked, disputed

When the audit was released, it estimated that the use of take-home vehicles was costing the department $1.5 million annually. These costs included acquisition of the vehicles, licenses, mileage, fuel, damage from accidents and regular maintenance. KCPD wasn’t tracking the exact costs; the audit’s first recommendation was for the chief of police to determine and report that cost annually to the police board.

In its response to the 2016 audit, the police department argued the report overestimated the cost of take-home vehicles to the department. It took issue with the auditor’s use of IRS mileage rates and said it caused the costs cited in the audit to be wildly inaccurate.

But under the current collective bargaining agreement, police captains and majors who use take-home vehicles are given a 3,000 mile allowance per month. If they go over, they’re required to reimburse according to the IRS rate, the same rate previously criticized as inaccurate by the department.

The audit also found that allowing officers to transport friends and family inside take-home vehicles could add an unnecessary liability concern. If an officer was called to an after-hours emergency while they had someone else in the car, it could take precious time to drop off nonemployees before responding.

In its response to the audit, the fleet operations unit acknowledged the potential liability concerns but said taking away the ability to transport family and friends would undermine the use of take-home vehicles by officers.

This story was originally published on The Kansas City Beacon.

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