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FAQ: Missouri's police funding ballot measure and why it matters for Kansas City

A man wearing a police uniform is raising his right hand to swear an oath. Another hand of a judge can be seen raised in the foreground.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Voters across Missouri are being asked to weigh in this November on a measure that specifically targets how much Kansas City spends on its police. Above, Joe Mabin is sworn in as interim police chief before the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners on April 22, 2022.

Amendment 4, which will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot, asks Missouri voters to require Kansas City to increase funding for police.

Voters across Missouri are being asked to weigh in this November on a measure that specifically targets how much Kansas City spends on its police.

Amendment 4 would give Missouri lawmakers more power over Kansas City’s police budget, by requiring the city to increase its minimum general fund spending for police through December 2026. While the measure is written broadly and will be voted on by residents outside of Kansas City, it would only apply to the Kansas City Police Department.

Over the last two years, the city has attempted to exert more control over its police department, including how the budget is spent. But those attempts have mostly been thwarted by a state-appointed police board that maintains exclusive management and control of the KCPD.

The ballot measure follows a bill passed by the Missouri legislature in 2022 raising Kansas City’s minimum payment for police from 20% of general revenue to 25%. However, the Missouri Constitution currently restricts Missouri lawmakers from imposing unfunded mandates on local governments. This amendment would provide an exception to that constitutional provision.

Here’s what else you need to know:

What does Amendment 4 say?

Amendment 4 doesn’t specifically mention Kansas City. But it would allow the Missouri Legislature to require increased minimum funding for a police force established by a state board of commissioners before Dec. 31, 2026, to ensure additional resources to serve the community. Kansas City is the only Missouri city with a state police board and the only city that doesn’t control its own police funding.

What would the impact of this measure be on Kansas City police funding, if it passes?

Missouri lawmakers passed a bill in 2022 raising Kansas City’s minimum payment for police from 20% of general revenue to 25%. Kansas City already spends more than 20% of its general fund on police, but that’s discretionary. Requiring Kansas City to spend at least a quarter of general tax dollars on police could mean less money for roads, fire protection, parks and other basic services.

The ballot’s fiscal note says this will have no impact on taxes. But Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas complains that is highly misleading. He argues that mandating more city money for police will certainly have an impact, leaving less money for other crucial services.

Currently, 20% of general revenue is about $154 million. The city’s current police budget is about $189 million. Requiring 25% would be about $193 million.

What prompted the Missouri Legislature to seek this authority?

This ballot measure reflects a backlash from conservative Missouri legislators over Lucas’ failed attempt to gain more local control over police funding. In 2021, the mayor and a City Council majority approved a plan to reallocate $42 million from the police budget to alternative violence prevention strategies.

Critics said that amounted to “defunding the police,” and a judge ruled the plan was illegal. State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, a Parkville Republican, led the charge for the Missouri bill raising the minimum funding threshold. Kansas City has sued, arguing that measure is unconstitutional. Amendment 4 attempts to address the constitutionality issue.

What are the arguments for this measure?

Luetkemeyer and Missouri State Rep. Doug Richey, an Excelsior Springs Republican, say the measure is necessary to ensure stable police funding at a time of high violent crime in Kansas City. They argue the entire state has a stake in making sure Kansas City sufficiently funds its police force.

“We need to prevent future radical attempts to defund the KCPD,” Luetkemeyer said. “This ensures the brave men and women of KCPD have the resources they need to keep our city safe.”

What are the arguments against the measure?

Quinton Lucas and civil rights leaders say it’s outrageous that Kansas City doesn’t have control and accountability over its own police department, like every other city in the state. They say the police are well funded, and Amendment 4 won’t improve public safety, while some money could be better spent on community-building, social services and mental health services.

“The radical legislation provides no pay guarantees for our officers, will not hire a single police officer and ignores the will and importance of Kansas City taxpayers, instead attempting to politicize policing in Kansas City at a time we sorely need bipartisan solutions to violent crime,” Lucas said.

Why should voters outside of Kansas City care about this measure?

Supporters say it’s important to stabilize funding for Kansas City police to protect public safety in the state’s largest city. Lucas and other opponents counter that this is a power grab by the Missouri Legislature, and if the state can do this to Kansas City, it could wrest away local control of police elsewhere in Missouri, especially in St. Louis.

Why is Kansas City the only city with a state police board?

A: This is a legacy of Tom Pendergast’s corrupt control of Kansas City from 1925 to 1939. In 1939, Missouri placed authority over the Kansas City police department with a board of police commissioners. Kansas City’s mayor is on the board but the four other members are appointed by the governor. Kansas City funds the police department, but unlike in the vast majority of cities nationwide, the City Council has no say over police spending or administration. Kansas City has periodically discussed trying to regain local police control, but those attempts have all fizzled.

Lynn Horsley is a freelance writer in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.
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