Kansas City police board rejects Kansas residency option, but the idea isn’t dead yet

·3 min read

Tuesday, by a 3-1 vote, the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners delayed final consideration of a plan to allow Kansas City, Missouri, police officers to live in Kansas.

The new policy allows officers to live outside the city limits, within 30 miles, but only in Missouri.

It was the right thing to do. Now, the police board must continue the work by rejecting any future plan that would allow officers to live in Kansas.

Allowing Kansas residency would be wrongheaded and deeply provocative: The policy change was clearly offered as a deliberate insult to Kansas City and its elected leaders.

To no one’s surprise, police officials said Tuesday that the Kansas option was inserted at the request of the Fraternal Order of Police, whose disrespect for the people of Kansas City has long been clear.

We opposed any change in the department’s longstanding requirement that all officers live within the city limits. For decades, the police board shared that view. Officers who live in the community are better officers because they’re more visible. They are connected to residents in a way outsiders are not.

Many officers now take police cars home, which may help increase officers’ visibility in neighborhoods. That policy now seems dangerous — what happens if an officer is involved in an accident outside of the city, in a police car? The liability issues are cloudy.

And there are moral dimensions to this issue. Does Kansas City really want a police force that drives into town from the suburbs to enforce the law in the central city? Resentments and anger can only grow, in a community already understandably furious at the department’s behaviors and policy.

Republican legislators, including state Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer of Parkville, ignored all of this. They passed legislation this session that, among other things, told the police board it could not require officers to live inside the city limits.

Democrats were able to wrangle one concession in the bill: While the board couldn’t require officers to live in the city, it could require officers to live in Missouri, within 30 miles of the city limits. All sides assumed that would be the policy.

Tuesday, however, the police board took up an even more expansive residency rule allowing officers to live in Kansas. Thankfully, it failed (Don Wagner, the only vote against the Missouri-only policy, is serving an expired term.)

It’s hard to overstate the outrage Kansas Citians should feel at this attempted last-minute switcheroo. The FOP has lusted for such a change for decades. GOP legislators who don’t live in the city decided for the city how it should treat its most important workforce.

Those who live in the city had no voice in this debate. Which is a full, direct, clear insult to half a million Kansas Citians who live inside the city limits.

To add more insult to this insult, Gov. Mike Parson plans to sign the bill this week, with the FOP. It isn’t possible to think of a more public display of contempt for Kansas City than that. The department’s decadeslong effort to divorce itself from the community it is supposed to serve is now complete.

Mayor Quinton Lucas led the opposition to the Kansas language Tuesday, and won. But the issue hasn’t gone away. Instead, police officials will discuss the policy in August, and there will be another try.

There is no evidence that allowing Kansas residency for police would provide new recruits or address the officer shortage. If Wyandotte County is fertile recruiting ground for police — which some suggested Tuesday — the board could consider a moving allowance or other bonus for employees who join the force and move to Kansas City, Missouri.

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