The City Council voted Thursday to pass a $2 billion annual budget for Kansas City, Missouri, but $6 million earmarked for a new city jail design got cut in no small part to a showing from organizers with Decarcerate KC. 

Decarcerate KC is an organization dedicated to resisting over-reliance on jails and policing in the city and says that investing in people—rather than incarceration and policing—is the solution to the distress caused by crime. The group wanted to keep police spending to a minimum but specifically targeted the $6 million meant for a new city jail. 

“Police and prisons do not stop violence and do not stop harm, and we made that message clear by showing up to each and every budget hearing in numbers,” says Decarcerate KC organizer Amaia Cook. 

During the budget hearings, members testified against using jails to solve the problems facing the city. While Decarcerate KC claimed a victory in removing the funds for jail design from the budget, they also called for a revamp of the entire budget. They say city money should focus on education, mental health services, food, housing, and childcare.

The organization also made it clear that they did not want to see a new jail built in the city or anywhere in Jackson County. They stated that there is no such thing as a “better jail” and that incarceration is not a solution to the city’s problems. Decarcerate KC believes that the city needs to focus on finding solutions beyond jails and police and that the community needs to work with elected officials to develop these solutions.

“The jail project will stall, but only for now. This win doesn’t come without tension,” says Decarcerate KC organizer Dylan Pyles. “We wanted to stop the money [the $6 million] from going to KCPD entirely.”

The $6 million meant for a new jail design was struck down but is represented within the $284 million figure allocated to the police department.

KCPolice Board Funding  Lawsuit Against the City 

While Decarcerate KC was disappointed to see that the $6 million for jail funding was struck down only to end up in police coffers, they were happy to see separate proposals from the Police board for an additional $13 million and $5 million to KCPD voted down. 

The City Council’s approved budget calls for $284 million for the police department, the largest city expense. When Amendment 4 passed a statewide election last November, it meant that—by law—Kansas City had to fork over 25% of its general revenue to the KCPD. The $284 million figure is reportedly just over the 25% mark.

The Police Board had asked for additional funding saying the mathematics behind calculating the city’s general revenue receipts is more complicated. In reality, the different components of Kansas City’s budget that make up the “general revenues” are scattered around the 700-page budget.

And the city isn’t sharing much about what those components are.

The Board of Police Commissioners, the state-appointed governing body for KCPD, has sued the city, alleging it is undercounting its general revenue. If the commissioners gain access to the city’s budget formula, it could become evidence in their case. And if a judge rules in favor of the police board, the city could be forced to redirect millions more dollars to the police department’s budget. Some observers say this could signal disaster for the city’s finances and slow development to a halt.