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Kansas City police budget reallocation leads Republicans to call for special session: A look at the changes

Missouri Republicans are hoping for a special session or the ability to allocate emergency funding after Kansas City leaders reallocated a portion of its police department’s budget Thursday. 

Billing it as a reallocation of funds to increase accountability, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas unveiled his plan Thursday to amend the Kansas City Police Department budget to the minimum 20 percent of the city’s general revenue as required under state statute. The $42.3 million that had already been allocated is now put into a separate fund — along with an additional $3 million — for the city manager and Board of Police Commissioners to oversee and use for community engagement, intervention, and other public services. 

“Kansas Citians, through their elected officials, aren’t actually looking for anything that’s unreasonable. Every other jurisdiction in the state of Missouri has the opportunity to fund its police department, work with its police department, have all types of different controls,” Lucas said in an interview with The Missouri Times. “We’re not even looking for that. We’re just looking to say that if there’s an extra $45 million, we want to make sure that programs that are important to a lot of our public — the community interaction officers, our crisis intervention team, our social worker programs, more 911 dispatchers — aren’t the first things to be on the chopping block. We want to make sure that those are the sorts of things that continue to be funded for Kansas Citians who need important services and we think that’s core to policing.” 

“This is part of Kansas City saying we want to actually work with folks and have that stronger voice, and this is a legislative way we have to do it,” he continued. 

Of the department’s $238 million budget, $153 million comes from that baseline of 20 percent of the city’s general revenue, according to Lucas. An additional $44 million covers pensions and is a separate fund, and about $45 million (the additional $3 million for recruitment purposes plus the $42.3 million that was reallocated) makes up the new community engagement fund. 

Lucas said the additional $3 million for recruitment is more than what the price tag is actually estimated to be. 

‘A new financial crisis’ 

However, opponents of the plan — which passed the city council hours after it was unveiled Thursday in a 9-4 vote — worry about how much discretion the police board will really have over the new fund. Republican lawmakers stressed the need for allocation of an emergency fund, a special legislative session, or legal intervention.

“There is a new financial crisis now that’s been created by the mayor when it comes to providing public safety for Kansas City at a time when violent crime in Kansas City is at an all-time high,” Rep. Doug Richey, whose district includes Clay County, said. “This is more than wrongheaded on the part of Mayor Lucas.” 

Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer expressed concern that the new fund could be withheld from the police department. 

“I think this is the worst thing the city could do — when we have record-high crime in Kansas City — to defund the police. This will make the city unquestionably unsafe,” Luetkemeyer said. “It’s reckless, and it’s radical.” 

‘Just the beginning’ 

Mayor Quinton Lucas said the new fund includes $3 million for recruitment which could alleviate some of the Kansas City Police Department’s hiring issues.

Kansas City Police Chief Richard Smith said he was “disheartened” that his department was not aware of any policy changes before the city council meeting and vote. 

“As a member of the Board of Police Commissioners, the mayor meets monthly with other board members, department members, and the public. At these meetings, we discuss performance and statistics from each bureau, including crime, budgets, policy, and other matters,” Smith said. “The mayor and the other sponsoring council members have not previously mentioned this proposal so our discussions about it are just beginning.”

Smith has publicly discussed issues his department has faced with retaining officers amid a hiring freeze. 

The Missouri General Assembly sought to alleviate some of those problems with legislation expanding residency requirements for officers. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Luetkemeyer and Sen. Brian Williams, is awaiting the governor’s signature. In the meantime, Lucas said the additional recruitment funds would alleviate hiring issues. 

“Gov. Mike Parson believes in law and order, which means there must be brave men and women in uniform willing to enforce the law and protect victims,” Kelli Jones, the communications director for the Republican governor said. “It is imperative that communities support our law enforcement officers who risk their lives daily to keep Missourians safe. As violent crime continues to be a problem in Kansas City, any effort to defund the police is dangerous and irresponsible.” 

The Kansas City Police Department has long fallen under state control under a Board of Police Commissioners — made up of four appointed Kansas City residents as well as the mayor. Lucas said he believed the requirement for the city to spend 20 percent of its budget on the police department itself is constitutional — but that’s another issue for another day.  

“I think unfortunately some of my friends in the legislature who have great interest in the Kansas City Police Department and the city of Kansas City but seemingly not as great of an interest in public safety here in Kansas City or addressing mental health problems or making sure we have adequate health care are looking for more ways to be divisive,” Lucas said. “They know this is not defunding … but I think they have political gain to make.”