The letter from state Reps. Chris Brown, Josh Hurlbert, Sean Pouche, and Doug Richey come on the heels of Kansas City leaders reallocating a portion of its police department’s budget last week. The budget was lowered 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.
But Republicans, including the four who signed the letter, have decried the move as a “defunding” of the Kansas City police.
“Kansas City is a city in crisis. This move only pushes a city we love and represent closer to the brink of disaster,” the representatives said. “As a state, we must move to protect our citizens in the state’s largest city and restore the statutory intent of the General Assembly. In light of the rapidly developing situation, we ask that you call a special session of the legislature to address this dangerous action.”
“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, previously 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.”
Of the department’s $238 million budget, $153 million comes from that baseline of 20 percent of the city’s general revenue, according to Kansas City Mayor Quinton 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.
“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.
The quartet of state representatives said the budget decision was “both dangerous and reckless,” pointing to the department’s hiring freeze, a lack of funding for a police academy class, and record homicides in 2021.
Brown, Hurlbert, and Pouche are all freshmen lawmakers. Richey is in his second term as a state representative.
The Missouri General Assembly sought to alleviate some of those problems with legislation expanding residency requirements for officers. The bipartisan bill is awaiting the governor’s signature. In the meantime, Lucas said the additional recruitment funds would alleviate hiring issues.
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.”
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.