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KCPD Chief pleads with city officials to give police more money than state law requires

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith listens to public comments during a 2020 Police Board Commission meeting.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith listens to public comments during a 2020 Board of Police Commissioners meeting.

City Council will vote on funding for Kansas City Police this week. But Chief Rick Smith said in a radio interview that funding the department with 20% of the city’s general fund — as state law requires — still amounts to “defunding” the police.

As the Kansas City Council prepares to pass its annual budget this week — including a $269 million policing budget — Police Chief Rick Smith implored city officials to fund the department above what’s required by state law.

Missouri law leaves the KCPD under state control and requires that Kansas City allocate at least 20% of its general revenue to the KCPD every year. This year, the department’s proposed $269 million budget goes above that 20% funding minimum by including a $33 million fund for community policing and crime prevention.

City council members will have to approve that additional fund before it becomes part of the official city budget. At Tuesday’s meeting of the Kansas City Board of Police commissioners, Smith pleaded for the council to pass the measure, saying the consequences of not doing so would be dire.

“We don't have enough cops to run the city,” Smith said.

A bulk of the extra money would go toward hiring more officers and increasing salaries. It would also support more officers trained in crisis intervention and community outreach. One model of community outreach is community action networks, where police officers work with neighborhood leaders to engage with residents in the hopes of reducing crime.

Smith says following minimum state law requirement would be the same as “defunding” police

If the City Council does not approve the $33 million fund — and chooses to follow state law and allocate 20% of its general revenue to the KCPD — Smith warned that the department would have to let go of officers.

“The premise of bringing the police department down to just a flat 20% would be detrimental to the safety of the city,” Smith said during Tuesday’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting.

In an interview Tuesday morning with local talk radio host Pete Mundo, Smith went even further, saying keeping the department’s budget to 20% of the general fund amounts to a “defund” of the police.

"If they hold us to the 20%, Pete, that is a defund,” Smith told the talk radio host. “I don't know how you wanna call it but the fact of the matter is the money will not be coming to the police department. So those that support that, in my mind, are supporting defunding the police, in some aspect. There's no other way we can look at it here at the department, we will not have the funds."

Smith told the police board he needs the $33 million to hire more people to address a steadily increasing workload. Last year, the department received 998,000 calls to its 911 center, Smith said. That’s up from 2020, when the KCPD received 967,000 calls.

“Our workload continues to go up,” he said, “yet resources continue to go down.”

Staffing shortages continue to plague the department

The KCPD has dealt with staffing shortages for most of the pandemic. In 2021, the department had to reduce its downtown patrol.

For the upcoming fiscal year, the KCPD budgeted for 3,494 full-time positions. That includes a little over 2,000 officers in the patrol bureau. But according to a staffing update at the Board of Police Commissioners meeting, the department is nowhere near those numbers. As of last month, the KCPD had a total of 1,144 law enforcement officers.

Twelve employees left the department in March, leaving the KCPD with 25 fewer officers than the start of the calendar year.

Personnel takes up 82% of the department’s budget.

Deputy Chief Michael Hicks said that while the number of departures is tapering off — particularly since officers received pay raises last year — it’s still difficult for the department to make up those numbers.

“It's really hard to pick that up when we're losing members, but we're only able to add so many, at least law enforcement members, every six to 10 months,” Hicks said. “And we're losing (civilian) employees as well.”

Smith said he’s been forced to overwork his officers by asking them to take on more overtime.

To deal with staffing shortages, Smith said the department will have to pull officers from community units and assign them to patrol shifts. He warned that response times to 911 calls could increase.

Debate over the police budget comes as state legislators consider whether to force Kansas City to increase police funding. The Missouri Senate passed a bill this month that would raise the funding requirement of the KCPD from 20% to 25% of Kansas City’s general revenues. That bill is now in the Missouri House.

City Council must act on police budget this week

The Kansas City Council must act on the police funding issue this week — it faces a Thursday deadline to pass the city budget, which includes the KCPD budget.

But in order to pass the $269 million budget, the council must first approve the ordinance allocating $33 million for community policing and crime prevention. That ordinance will be debated in a committee hearing Wednesday. Earlier this month, several council members were concerned with transparency and holding the department accountable to the fund’s specific purposes.

Several residents also testified to the council in opposition to the ordinance, arguing that the city should not fund the department more than what is required by state law.

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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