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Kansas City plans to give more money to a police force that some locals say 'doesn't measure up'

Carlos Moreno
The Kansas City Police Department is set to receive a $269 million in the coming fiscal year. But some residents argue that number should be lower.

The city council is considering an ordinance that would give the police department $33 million more than what is called for under state law. The money would fund community prevention and policing.

The Kansas City Police Department is slated to get $269 million in the upcoming fiscal year, by far the most of any city agency. That’s $33 million more than the state law requirement that the department receive at least 20% of the city’s general fund. But how that extra money should be spent is still disputed by Kansas City residents and politicians.

Mayor Quinton Lucas wants to use the extra money to create a community policing and prevention fund. But residents like John Simpson, a member of the local social justice organization MORE2, don’t think the police should get any of it.

“We've kept putting more and more money into more officers,” Simpson says. “Our crime rate doesn't really change and we still have a police department that doesn't measure up.”

Lucas’s proposed fund would support increasing salaries and hiring more officers focused on community outreach and crisis intervention. Nearly $4.7 million would go toward community outreach staff, which Lucas says could also support community action networks.

An example would be the Westside Community Action Network, which pairs local residents with a code enforcement officer focused on property maintenance, two police officers and a neighborhood specialist partner to improve the Westside neighborhood.

“I think all of us have an interest in ensuring that we are working on items like prevention,” Lucas said during a recent committee meeting.

KCPD is dealing with staffing shortages and increasing violent crime

Discussions over the police department budget come in the wake of rising homicide trends in Kansas City. Councilwoman Melissa Robinson, whose 3rd District includes the department’s East Patrol Division, which has more homicides and 911 calls than any other patrol division, supports Lucas’ proposal — but only as long as it provides for reaching full police department staffing numbers, community policing and prevention, and effective violence reduction strategies.

Staffing shortages have plagued the KCPD during the COVID pandemic. In 2021, it was short about 300 officers, which prompted it to cut down on its downtown foot patrols.

Robinson also says the department needs to make sure it’s using the staffing and resources it already has at its disposal.

“The officers that we do have, sworn officers, are we using them in a way that is efficient and that will get us to our number one goal of response time?” she asks.

Simpson, by contrast, would rather the council create a fund to provide criminal justice reforms that protect the community.

“Use that excess [money] to make these changes and provide for these other kinds of programs — better education, mental health, housing transportation — and use it for that,” he says. “And that fund would be controlled by the city. The police wouldn't have anything to do with that.”

Talib Muwwakil, a member of the National Black United Front and the city’s police task force, also opposes Lucas’ ordinance.

“The Kansas City Police Department has been proven to be a very corrupt department, a very violent department,” he says. “A very anti-human department.”

Muwwakil says the city needs to try different solutions centered on violence reduction and prevention.

“Let’s stop putting a band aid on bullet wounds,” he says. “Let's put some money to the side and address some mental illness. Let's put some money to the side and address houselessness. Let's put some money aside and address real issues that are plaguing our community, which leads to violence.”

Kansas City still doesn’t control its police department

Lucas’ ordinance represents his latest attempt to exert some local control over the police department. Unlike other major cities, Kansas City’s police department is state-controlled, a vestige of the Pendergast era. It’s governed by a five-member body, the Board of Police Commissioners, four of whose members are appointed by the governor. The fifth is the mayor, the sole elected member of the board.

In an attempt to wrest back some control, Lucas and the council last year voted to reallocate $42 million of the police budget to a community policing and prevention fund. The move drew swift backlash from police and GOP lawmakers, who decried it as “defunding the police.” A Missouri judge ultimately stuck down the measure.

But the consequences of that action by the council are still being felt. In reaction to the council’s move, the Missouri Senate recently passed a bill sponsored by Parkville state Senator Tony Luetkemeyer to increase the KCPD’s funding requirement from 20 percent of the general fund to 25 percent.

Robinson says if that bill becomes law, the council would only have the ability to write a check for the department and give up what little control it has.

“If that is successful, I would just be voting to do what the state law says,” Robinson says. “And if people have issues with the police, if there are things that folks need to have a response for regarding policing, they have to go through the Board of Police Commissioners, because we just would not have any amount of direction or authority.”

The police budget, which includes Lucas’ proposed $33 million fund, must be approved by the city council at its meeting on March 24. If the council does not approve the ordinance by then, it will be removed from the budget.

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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