When the organization that controls your police department files a lawsuit against your mayor, city manager, city council, we call that a mess. Messy it is in Kansas City, but how did it get that way?
Last month, the city council passed a legislative package that Mayor Quinton Lucas said clearly was not defunding the police, but rather a reallocation of some of the Police Department’s funding toward violence prevention programming. Well, the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners didn’t quite see it that way and they quickly moved to sue the whole bunch of them in Jackson County Circuit Court.
How deserving are the allegations that the mayor and city council defunded the police? Here’s a look at the numbers.
Currently, the Missouri Legislature requires the city to allocate at least 20% of its 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 would shift that additional $42 million toward new community services programs within KCPD designed to increase police outreach, prevention, intervention and other public service programs, as a way to help reduce violent crime. The legislation also called for the city manager to enter an “agreement” with the Board of Police Commissioners to provide all those services.
Since this “agreement” gives the city manager, who reports to the mayor and city council, some say on what the extra $42 million would be used, the Board of Police Commissioners says the legislation violates Missouri law that gives the Police Commission total say over how KCPD budget dollars are spent.
POLICE COMMISSION CONTROL OF KCPD
Under Missouri law, the KCMO Mayor Lucas and the city council do not have local control over the city’s police department; the state does. Missouri law puts the five-member Board of Police Commissioners over KCPD. Four of the members are appointed by the governor and the firth member is KCMO’s mayor.
“While expected, today’s lawsuit reflects a failure — a failure of our status quo — where power and politics get the attention and the energy of our state, not the toll of violence in our neighborhoods and tragedies of human lives. While the Board’s lawsuit represents a call for the status quo, under the status quo, we have lost kids like LeGend Taliferro. Folks, we can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. The status quo is killing us,” Lucas said.
“While I understand the frustration of the mayor, the city council and some citizens of Kansas City, Missouri, I also understand that we must abide by the laws enacted by our Missouri Legislature,” wrote Bishop Mark Tolbert, president of the Board of Police Commissioners in a released statement. He went on to write that the change in funding would risk a disruption in emergency services.
A hearing for the lawsuit was scheduled for June 1 at 1:30 p.m., but a few hours before, Judge Kevin Harrell postponed the hearing, giving the city 14 days to answer the Board of Police Commissioners’ demand to stop the budget change.
“Kansas City, reluctantly embraces this litigation to shed light on and strike down a system that for generations has been unfair, unconstitutional and sadly unsuccessful…” Lucas said in a statement. “Our lawyers are reviewing the filings, will impose any emergency motions and will evaluate all constitutional counterclaims, including that this system undervalues the voices of all taxpaying Kansas Citians.”
Lucas added that he is committed to solving the violence problem in Kansas City, even if it takes going to the United States Supreme Court.
FOUR STATE REPUBLICAN LAWMAKERS:
Rep. Chris Brown-Kansas City, Rep. Josh Hurlbert-Smithville, Rep. Sean PoucheKansas City and Rep. Doug Richey-Excelsior Springs, sent a letter to Gov. Mike Parson asking him to call a special session to have the legislature address what they saw as a “dangerous action.”
The legislature just passed a bill that punishes cities that decrease law enforcement budgets by more than 12%. 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. He said there has been much distortion about the legislation.
“This increases funding to the police. This increases neighborhood involvement in public safety, and this increases my accountability, your elected’s accountability to the victims and the neighborhoods plagued by decades of crime in Kansas City,” Lucas said.