Kansas City police board delays approval of budget, seeks more money to pay officers

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As talks continue over the Kansas City Police Department’s future spending, officer staffing was the central topic of discussion during a Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners meeting Wednesday that ended with a plan for a budget rework session.

Base pay for new officers, upcoming retirements and a shortage of police officer candidates were among concerns highlighted by commissioners and administrators. Police Chief Rick Smith said the department is having difficulty staying competitive in the job market.

“The department’s inability to stay competitive with the job market and hire from a pool of quality applicants is not only a detriment to this department, but a detriment to the community it serves,” the chief said in his written budget proposal.

Smith distributed the budget request to members of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners last week. The $272 million request is a 6% increase and calls for money to pay for new police academy classes. It asks for funding to have 1,413 sworn police officers, which represents roughly 200 more than are currently on staff.

“We think that in order to meet the needs of this city there needs to be an investment in this police department,” Smith told board members Wednesday.

The police board asked Smith to make adjustments in his proposal and said it would review and approve the request next week.

Once the budget is approved by the police board, it goes to the city manager’s office for a round of adjustments. City leaders also have the ability to reduce the budget to a state-required minimum of 20% of its general fund.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, a board member, said he was encouraged by some of the conversations.

The mayor acknowledged the department must make expenses to cover its responsibilities. But he said he does not “think that it should be used as an excuse annually to not hire people and to not pay people,” alluding to the long dispute between City Hall and a police department run by a state-appointed board.

“Even if we put that in the budget, we don’t know if it got to where it was supposed to be: funding more people,” Lucas said. “And I’m glad that I think today we have a template for how we can actually do that.”

The mayor added that extraneous costs “should be secondary to making sure we have enough officers in our community to respond to the many incidents around Kansas City.”

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Sgt. Brad Lemon, president of the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99, said the FOP would be working to help recruit staff. And he said the issues facing Kansas City are being felt across the country.

“We’re all competing for the same number of people. And that number is not increasing right now,” Lemon said of recruitment challenges.

Police spending has been controversial in recent months. Earlier this year, board members filed a civil lawsuit against Lucas and the city after they approved a measure cutting the police budget back to 20% of the city’s general fund, the minimum required by state law.

The City Council’s approval of two ordinances orchestrated by Lucas sought to reduce the department’s budget by $42.3 million. It placed that money, about 18% of KCPD’s $239 million budget, in a separate fund. Its use would be the matter for City Manager Brian Platt and police commissioners to negotiate.

But earlier this month, a Jackson County judge ruled that the council overstepped its authority and violated Missouri law with its plan to reallocate the funds.

Lucas last week questioned the request to spend nearly $2 million on an infrared camera system for the helicopter and other aircraft devices. That money could pay for a recruiting class. He also found it questionable the department would propose spending $400,000 for a spare helicopter engine.

One action taken during the meeting repurposed $300,000 from the officer staffing budget line to go toward settlements for legal claims brought against the department. It was passed by the board with a single dissenting vote from Lucas, who criticized the idea of taking from the pot of money earmarked for officer pay.

Smith said the replacement of those items were essential for vehicle pursuits and patrol operations.

Commissioners adjourned the meeting after scheduling a budget rework session to take place Monday.

Smith declined to comment following the meeting Wednesday.

Other items included in the proposed budget includes spending just under $10 million to replace the department’s aging portable radio system.

In his budget note to the board, Smith said: “The department is losing seasoned staff and is having difficulty hiring new staff at starting pay. The department’s inability to stay competitive with the job market and hire from a pool of quality applicants is not only a detriment to this department but a detriment to the community it serves.”

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