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Politics, Elections and Government

Missouri legislature passes bill requiring Kansas City to give more money to the KCPD

052021_cm_Police
Sam Zeff
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KCUR
A Kansas City police officer watches protesters in Mill Creek Park on May 30 last year.

Current state law requires Kansas City to allocate 20% of its general fund to the KCPD every year. A bill pushed through the legislature by Missouri Republicans increases that threshold to 25%, but it's unclear if the move is constitutional.

On the last day of the Missouri legislative session, lawmakers sent a bill to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk increasing Kansas City’s minimum funding requirement for the Kansas City Police Department. But it's unclear if the bill is constitutional.

In a structure seen almost nowhere else in the country, the KCPD is governed by a five-member Board of Police Commissioners, four of whom are appointed by Missouri's governor.

Currently, Missouri law mandates that Kansas City allocate 20% of its general revenues to the KCPD every year.

However a new bill, which passed the Senate in March and was approved by the House Friday, raises that requirement to 25% of the city’s general revenues.

Some Democratic lawmakers argued the funding bill would violate the “Hancock Amendment,” a provision of the Missouri Constitution that prohibits unfunded state mandates of local actions.

To address that, the Republican-dominated House also voted 103-44 to approve a proposed constitutional amendment, clarifying their authority to take the action. The amendment will go to voters later this year.

The bill was originally introduced by Republican Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer of Parkville. Luetkemeyer and other Republicans say the bill is a response to last year’s city council efforts to place about $42 million of the KCPD’s budget into a fund dedicated to violent crime prevention and community policing.

Though the council supported the action, a Missouri court ruled that the city couldn't make changes to the police budget after it's approved because the KCPD is governed by the Board of Police Commissioners.

Missouri Republicans have characterized the city council’s actions as a “defunding” of the police.

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Carlos Moreno
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KCUR 89.3
State Rep. Patty Lewis, a Democrat from Jackson County, spoke against a Republican bill that increased the amount of funding that Kansas City is required to give police.

Sen. Luetkemeyer said in a statement that he’s grateful the legislation passed.

“Taken together, these two measures will prevent future efforts to defund the police in Kansas City and provide the KCPD with the resources it needs to keep our community safe,” he said.

But Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and supporting council members argued the reallocation of funds wasn’t a “defunding” but rather a way to exercise some local control over a state-controlled police department.

Lucas, a member of the Board of Police Commissioners, voiced opposition to the legislation in January, arguing it would give a “blank check” to the KCPD. Councilwoman Heather Hall, who represents the Northland, supported the bill.

Lucas, who was at the White House on Friday with interim KCPD Chief Joseph Mabin to discuss public safety, said he was disappointed that the legislature passed the bill, calling it a “step back” for Kansas City. 

“We need more local influence in terms of how we make our policing decisions,” Lucas said. “The step taken today in Jefferson City does just the opposite of that. We'll continue to fight hard for the people of Kansas City to make our community safer, not just to play the politics of Jefferson City.”

Kansas City Councilwoman Melissa Robinson said the city needs to move away from the “antiquated model” of state control and fight for local control.

“This is a sad day for taxpayers in Kansas City,” Robinson said in a statement.  “It’s unconscionable that Kansas Citians have to pay for government activities without any direct say in policing policies or accountability.”

Gwen Grant, president of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, called passage of the bill government overreach. 

“It has the potential of causing a lot of harm to Kansas City,” Grant said. “It just makes absolutely no sense that the state legislature would dictate how our local government should allocate its resources, all for the protection of  the police in response to a false narrative of defunding.”

Grant said she hopes the legislature’s action will rally Kansas City to fight for local control of the police department, a structure of governance that has its roots in the Pendergast era.

“I would hope that it would galvanize Kansas City to step up and say, ‘No, we as taxpaying citizens should not be subjected to this colonialism. We should have the ability, we should have control over this police department and how our revenues are spent,’” Grant said.

Democrats representing Kansas City called the bill a “knee-jerk” reaction to last year’s city council actions.

In March, the Kansas City Council passed a $269 million budget for the KCPD , an amount that's above the state’s current 20% funding mandate.

As part of the budget, $33 million is dedicated to a community policing and prevention fund proposed by Lucas. That fund will be used to hire more officers, particularly officers dedicated to community policing.

The Kansas City Council previously approved spending $450,000 on attorneys to fight the bill should it pass.

Updated: May 13, 2022 at 4:03 PM CDT
This story has been updated to include reactions to the bill.
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