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KC Police Chief Says Bigger Budget, More Cops Would Help Kansas City 'Grow Together'

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith was sworn in on August 15. He has spent 29 years in law enforcement and is the department's 45th chief.

After three months on the job, Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith has laid out a set of changes he would like to make within his department. Most of them would involve hiring more personnel, both uniformed and civilian.

This comes less than a month after the chief released his requested budget for the next fiscal year, which includes an ask for an additional $9.3 million from the Kansas City, Missouri, general fund and a total budget of $251.9 million.

On Wednesday, Smith spoke with Steve Kraske, host of KCUR's Up To Date, about specific adjustments he wants instituted. The two were joined by Leland Shurin, president of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners.

Smith acknowledges his department is struggling with staffing issues, but says adjustments are being made to deal with them as well as possible.

"I don't think we're at crisis," he says. "We've rearranged some of our hours so that we have more officers on the street during our peak hours," but the department is close to reaching a point where the only thing left to do is add staff.

KCUR has previously reported on Smith's desire to hire 30 more patrol officers and 21 more civilian dispatchers in an attempt to reduce 911 hold times and hasten police response.

In a blog post last month, Smith wrote that the average citywide police response time was about 8 minutes. The average 911 hold time in September was 30 seconds, according to Smith.

"That's too long," he says. "The goal should be an instant answer."

Credit Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Leland Shurin, president of Kansas City's Board of Police Commissioners, is concerned about the department's ability to attract minority and women recruits. "I don't think we have in the past recruited aggressively enough in those communities," he says.

Commissioner Shurin says he wants to have 150 dispatchers on staff.

"If we get these 21 new ones, we would have 113," Shurin says.

Additionally, Smith wants to increase the number of Community Interaction Officers in the department from six to 12. These officers are the main point of contact in each patrol division for community and neighborhood groups and businesses reporting issues that are not of immediate enforcement concern.

"Those officers have a capacity issue," Smith says. "There's more requests for their help and services than we can get to in a timely manner."

Former Chief Darryl Forté, Smith's predecessor, eliminated the Community Interaction Officer position in 2016.

But uniformed police can only do so much. If his department is to establishing better community relations, Smith says he will also depend on the help of civilian employees.

"Police can show up in a uniform and we can offer help and assistance, and then we have a social worker who comes in plain clothes, who doesn't have a uniform on ... and a connection's made like that," Smith says, snapping his fingers.

That difference in approach the department's lone social worker has is valuable, Smith says, which is why he wants to bring another one on board.

Smith's call for change comes against a backdrop of rising violent crime rates in Kansas City, Missouri, which is likely to reach a record number of homicides. So far this year, there have been 130 homicides in the city.

The root of that trend is unclear, says Smith.

"I don't have a solid answer" he says. "I can't tell you this one thing is key because, if it was, we'd be working on it."

Commissioner Shurin is careful not to place blame at the new chief's feet.

"It's not a total police problem," he says, "it's a societal problem."

That said, Smith is not surprised people are looking to him for answers.

"People naturally assume that we are the ones ... to come up with all the solutions," Smith says, largely because police are the most easily-identifiable part of the criminal justice system.

The chief's requested budget and personnel bumps are aimed at assuaging community concerns, he says, and driving down violence.

"The investment of driving down violent crime, as I like to say, allows this whole city to grow together at once," says Smith.

Ultimately, the answer to Chief Smith's request will come from the city council, which takes up the city budget each spring.

For his part, the commissioner is hopeful they will approve it.

"I'm going to be very surprised if they do not," Shurin says.

Listen to Steve Kraske's entire conversation with Chief Rick Smith and Commissioner Leland Shurin here.

Luke X. Martin is the associate producer of KCUR's Up To Date. Contact him at luke@kcur.org or on Twitter.

As culture editor, I oversee KCUR’s coverage of race, culture, the arts, food and sports. I work with reporters to make sure our stories reflect the fullest view of the place we call home, so listeners and readers feel primed to explore the places, projects and people who make up a vibrant Kansas City. Email me at luke@kcur.org.