Kansas City Council passes $2 billion budget that includes millions more for KCPD
The legislation includes $269 million for police, the biggest budget of any city department. Attempts by city council members to have more control over how the police department spends money ultimately failed.
The Kansas City Council passed a nearly $2 billion budget Thursday, including a $269 million police budget that goes above what is required by Missouri law and eschews attempts for the council to exercise some kind of local accountability over the police department.
Funding for police has prompted fierce debate among Kansas City residents and elected officials and proved, once again, to be the most contentious part of the budget. Specifically, council members were split over whether the city should fund the KCPD with 20% of its general revenues — fulfilling state mandate — or approve an additional $33 million for the department to hire more officers and increase salaries.
The vote on the budget was 12-1, with Third District-at-Large Councilman Brandon Ellington the lone no vote. Ellington opposed giving the police department control over an additional $33 million fund.
The ordinance allocating that extra money for police was sponsored by Mayor Quinton Lucas and outlined priorities for the KCPD that were agreed upon by the mayor, the Board of Police Commissioners and Chief of Police Rick Smith.
Some of those priorities include $4 million to hire at least 88 new officers, with a focus on diversity recruitment, and $400,000 to establish community action networks in the East Patrol and Metro Patrol divisions.
Budget debate highlights the question of local control of police
The debate over the $33 million fund highlights a fundamental question activists and politicians have been debating for decades: who should have authority and control over the police department, the governor-appointed Board of Police Commissioners, or City Council.
The KCPD is in the unique position of being under state control through the five-member Board of Police Commissioners, of which Lucas is the only elected member. The annual budget process is one of the only times city council can have some say over how the police department does business.
A separate measure introduced by Councilwoman Katheryn Shields in Wednesday’s Finance, Governance, and Public Safety Committee proposed putting that fund under city control. The police department would have to request money on an as-needed basis.
Third District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson said she preferred that approach.
“Year after year, we have voted to increase officers and we have not gotten to that end,” Robinson said during Wednesday’s committee meeting. “So now it's time for us to take responsibility, the little bit of accountability that we have, and to say, ‘Yes, we're going to ensure that you do these things before we allocate money to do that.’”
But that measure failed by a 3-3 vote, and on Thursday, the majority of the council voted to move forward with Lucas’ proposal instead.
Still, concerns remain over accountability of the funds and how they’ll be used. Although the measure breaks down how the $33 million should be spent, it is not legally binding. The ordinance does require quarterly audits from the city auditor of the Board of Police Commissioners to meet the expectations outlined in the ordinance.
Councilman Brandon Ellington, who is not a member of the finance committee and did not vote on Shields’ measure, said he was disheartened by the committee's decision to not support local control of the $33 million fund. Ellington accused the mayor of putting the priorities of the police board over the needs of residents.
“Even yesterday in committee, you took off the head of mayor and you articulated as a police board member,” Ellington said to Lucas. “That's problematic. You are on the police board because you're a mayor, not because you're in law enforcement. You're supposed to represent the people.”
Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McManus noted the issue with the proposals from Shields and Lucas: the lack of accountability or legal remedy over how the KCPD uses its funds.
“That's the system of governance that we have,” he said, referring to state control of the department. “It shows, I think, the weakness of the state control system, where we are funding something, and actually don't have the ability to hold those funds accountable.”
Other budget changes
There were slight changes between the first version of the budget released in late February and the newly approved budget.
One decision to move the Office of Environmental Quality under the oversight of the Neighborhoods and Community Services was reversed, leaving it with the City Manager's office.
The Parks and Recreation Department is receiving an additional $100,000 for pool operations. The KC Film Commission and ArtsKC are two arts programs receiving an additional $100,00 and $50,000, respectively, in the upcoming budget.