City council passed a legislative package yesterday that Mayor Quinton Lucas said would increase accountability for the Kansas City Police Department.
The legislative package will reallocate a portion of KCPD’s funding to community programs the city council hopes will address the root causes of violent crime. The legislation will also give city council more oversight over how KCPD spends a portion of its budget, Lucas said.
How it Would Work
Currently, the Missouri Legislature requires the city to allocate at least 20% of their total budget to the police department, which equals about $153 million. It’s also required to fund about $40 million in pension obligations for the department. Combined, last year the city was required to allocate at least $193 million for police funding, and they exceeded that amount by about $42 million.
Lucas’ plan will shift that additional $42 million toward a new Community Services and Prevention Fund within KCPD, which the mayor said will provide community engagement, outreach, prevention, intervention and other public service programs, all designed to help reduce violent crime.
An additional $3 million will be set aside for the department to recruit any additional staff to implement and staff the program’s efforts.
Part of the legislation also says the city manager would go into contract with the Board of Police Commissioners to negotiate how exactly the total $45 million would be used.
Pushback from the Northland
Lucas originally introduced the legislation Wednesday at noon, but the legislation passed as law just a few hours later in a rare procedure that allows legislation to pass the same day they’re introduced if nine votes are secured.
While both pieces of legislation did pass out of city council 9-4, the Board of Police Commissioners has the final say on operations within the police department including whether or not this new community services approach to policing is implemented.
KCPD Chief Rick Smith released a statement after Lucas introduced the legislation saying that Lucas and the other council members had not mentioned the proposed ordinances to him.
“I am disheartened Mayor Lucas and the other sponsoring council members did not reach out to the Police Department prior to today’s press conference to notify us of such a policy shift,” Smith said.
The four councilmembers who represent the Northland, Teresa Loar, Heather Hall, Dan Fowler and Kevin O’Neill say they also were not notified of the proposed legislation until just before Lucas’ announcement. They all expressed their frustration and concern that the legislation was going to significantly cut the KCPD budget.
In fact, Loar said it’s the worst piece of legislation she has ever seen in her 14 years at city hall.
“I don’t understand what in the world you were thinking to do such a thing and defund the police department by $42 million,” Loar said during the business session Wednesday afternoon, before the full council voted on the legislation. “You know that means a reduction in police officers on this street, so that makes this city unsafe for our children and our families. So, the next murder is on your hands.”
To clear up confusion, Lucas explained that the funding would stay within the police department and would not give authority for the money to be spent anywhere outside of discussions with KCPD. It would just give the council more say about how the $42 million is spent.
Does the Bill Defund KCPD?
To discourage “defunding” police, the Missouri Legislature passed a bill this session that allows law enforcement agencies to sue the city if the city makes cuts that exceed 12% to their police budget. The policy was introduced to counter activists’ calls to “defund the police.”
“This is not defunding and if you’re saying that, then you’re trying to play the divisive politics issue that does happen in too many other places. This has actually increased funding,” Lucas said.
“What I would say to anyone who thinks that this is in some way legally questionable, I actually welcome a legal challenge because that would allow us to articulate some of our own concerns about the bizarre setup that we have in Kansas City,” Lucas said, referring to KCPD’s current state control.
Lucas said he sees the legislation as a creative new way for KCPD to focus on preventing violent crime instead of using traditional models of increasing police, which he says is not working.
Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McManus said together the two ordinances actually give an invitation for cooperation and collaboration on violence prevention.
“The bigger issue is, we’ve got to have some collaboration in this community. The community is begging for it,” McManus said.
Councilman Brandon Ellington also pointed out that most crime happens in the third and fifth districts, yet most officers live in the Northland, which takes away many officer’s connectedness to the community most impacted by violent crime.
“When you talk to most of the council folks for the Northland, y’all can point to law enforcement officers that live in your community. That changes the proximity of culture and understanding,” Ellington said. “What we’re saying is the scope of observation needs to be bigger than the limitations of your own geographic area. I encourage the entire council to look past their limited scope of understanding and vote for ultimate transparency.”
The four councilmembers representing the Northland still voted no on the legislation. In the next couple of weeks, the ordinances will go to the Board of Police Commissioners. The next board meeting is June 15 at 9:30 a.m.