A group of downtown business leaders has raised concerns with the elimination of a Kansas City police unit tasked with patrolling the downtown area on foot.
In a letter addressed to Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith on Oct. 7, which was obtained by The Star, disbanding the unit is cast as a detriment to police presence and service in the downtown area. It asks for a meeting with the chief to discuss the concerns.
“Disturbingly, this information has spread throughout the business and residential communities, causing people great concern for their safety and property. The Foot Patrol Unit has been part of the downtown area for over 60 years. Now that downtown is thriving with strong businesses and over 20,000 residents, it is the wrong time to disband this unit,” the letter says.
Over the past eight years, the unit has kept free office space that was recently remodeled across the street from the Crossroads Academy, the letter says. Other developments are planned within the bounds of the Central Patrol Division that would benefit from prompt police response, the letter says.
“We fully support you and the KCPD, and we understand the current challenges,” the letter says. “However, we feel it’s imperative not to close the Foot Patrol Unit, and other stakeholders feel the same way.”
The letter was signed by Julia Kauffman of the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation, Shirley Helzberg of the Chierley and Barnett Helzberg Foundation, Vince Dasta of MC Realty and Jonathan Kemper of Commerce Bank, and Michael and Edward Merriman of Financial Holding Corporation among others.
The chief has for months pointed to unexpected leave of officers and a difficulty in finding new hires as a major challenge for the police department. By October, the number of sworn officers was expected to fall below 1,200. Its budget for the current fiscal year gives the department spending authority for more than 1,400 officers.
During a meeting of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners last month, Smith said the department continues to face staffing problems. He referenced within that conversation the downtown foot patrol unit, which has one sergeant and three officers assigned. All are scheduled to retire by the end of the year and there is no one in line to fill those positions, he said.
The chief said the department’s community engagement initiatives are impacted by the demand for responding to emergency calls across the city, saying “a top priority of this organization is to be there for people in need when they call 911.”
“We struggle, we will continue to struggle,” the chief said of the staffing situation. “But I have to tell you all that there’s going to have to be decisions made at some point of some of these units and whether we keep them open or we close them and we reassign the officers to get back to patrol.”
The Star’s Luke Nozicka contributed to this report.