Monday, October 24, 2016

Police deserve same raises as employees of other City services

We are always working to make the Kansas City Missouri Police Department a first-class law enforcement agency with members of the highest quality to serve the people of our community. I want to ensure our department recruits and retains public servants of the highest caliber who reflect the make-up of our city.

Numerous things have made that more difficult in recent years: the increased scrutiny police are under nationwide, the increased danger they are facing (officers killed by firearms so far this year are up 47 percent compared to this date last year), and issues of morale and pay.

As I wrote here earlier this year, we have eliminated more than 100 law enforcement and 100 non-sworn positions to stay within our budget. Despite these efforts to ensure police are not taking an outsize portion of the City budget, it appears the police department is slated to receive the lowest raises of any City services over the next three years.

In the City’s Five-Year Citywide Business Plan, which Council Members are set to vote on Thursday, employees of all other City services are slated to receive raises ranging from 2.5 to 4.7 percent each of the next three years. During that time, KCPD members are only set to receive 2 percent raises each year. The members of our department deserve equal pay treatment with the employees of other City services. The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners adopted a resolution stating the need for this parity in 2011.

The Olathe, Kansas, Police Department conducted a police compensation analysis in May of this year, comparing the salaries and benefits of area public safety departments. That showed KCPD officers had the highest starting salary in the metro area, but we fell to 10th place out of the 12 agencies compared for officers who had reached their top pay step.

In an urban environment with high workloads, significant violent crime and intensive scrutiny, it can be difficult enough to retain high-quality officers and non-sworn staff. A financial plan that does not value police employees as much as employees of other City services has the potential to negatively impact police morale and employee retention.

To continue to serve our city with the highest-quality employees, I support KCPD members receiving annual salary increases on par with those in City services.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Officer-involved shootings, from training to investigation

With officer-involved shootings in the national spotlight the last few years, I want to share how the members of the Kansas City Police Department train to deal with potential threats and how to avoid them, what happens if a shooting does take place, what’s made public and what isn’t, and how we will work with the FBI, prosecutors and U.S. Attorney’s office to investigate.

I’ll start with our training. In the last couple of years, we have developed and implemented ground-breaking training on how to de-escalate situations so we can avoid having to make a shoot/don’t-shoot decision. Police departments from around the nation have contacted us about this training so they could give it to their officers. I discussed this in a post last year about officers’ well-being:

“The instructor of the course, Sergeant Ward Smith, describes the idea well: ‘I can remain in this same position, and I’ll have to use force. But if I use tactics and training and think my way through this, I can pull out of this location and avoid shooting it out with someone.’ This is a change of mindset for many. Throughout the history of law enforcement, we’ve had the idea of ‘never back down, never retreat.’ We are encouraging and training our officers to use critical thinking and problem solving to avoid a situation in which they have to shoot someone to protect themselves. This is easier said than done, because oftentimes situations unfold rapidly, leaving officers seconds or less to make decisions. Although we've stressed critical thinking and problem solving in the past, with Sergeant Smith's training, we’re emphasizing the idea that there may be other options.”

Our training staff developed more training along these same lines this year. Our officers now must qualify on their firearms twice annually. At their first qualifying sessions, they learned about the importance of proximity – both physical and emotional – in preventing the escalation of a situation. This article provides more information about what went into that training.

At their second qualifying session this year, officers are learning how to provide first aid to anyone they might have hurt (also discussed in the above linked article). A big part of this is determining whether a situation is stable and if an armed subject still poses a threat. On many occasions, an injured subject will fall to the ground still clutching and able to fire a gun. But if this is not the case, our officers are being instructed to provide emergency first aid to anyone injured by police use of force until an ambulance can arrive. We did this in an incident on Aug. 27. The suspect survived.

Even with all the de-escalation, proximity and first aid training in the world, however, officers may be forced to use lethal force against someone, resulting in fatal wounds. No one wants that to happen, but police must protect themselves and others.

Shoot/Don’t Shoot
Recently, a suspect pointed a gun at our officers, and the officers did not shoot. This is not unusual. Kansas City Missouri Police encounter shoot/don’t shoot scenarios often, and they make split-second, life-or-death decisions in those situations with varying outcomes. No situation is the same. Although the officers in the most recent incident did not shoot, they would have been legally justified if they did. The suspect was threatening their lives by pointing an assault rifle at them. Based on their training and experience, other officers might have chosen to shoot, and they still would have responded to the threat appropriately, according to the law and our department’s policy.

No officer ever wants to take a life, and we are training to avoid such situations whenever possible. But if an officer or resident’s life is threatened, we must respond to protect ourselves and others.

The Investigation
If an officer-involved shooting does take place, several things happen to ensure a thorough investigation, beginning at the scene of the incident. Multiple people respond to the scene of an officer-involved shooting, including the county prosecutor or someone from his or her office, our lead legal adviser, the commander of the Internal Affairs Unit, crime scene investigators, usually myself and the police shooting team, among others. Nothing is done in a vacuum.

The police shooting team is a squad of specialized detectives charged with preparing the investigative case file that will go to the prosecutor. As with any other shooting case, they collect victim and witness statements, gather evidence and present their findings to the prosecutor. After submission to the prosecutor’s office for their review on whether charges are warranted against the officer, the case file also is reviewed by Internal Affairs, our Notable Events Review Panel, training staff and commanders. There are multiple checks and balances to ensure the investigation is fair and unbiased. It also provides opportunity for analysis on whether additional training is warranted.  

We made an even bigger step toward transparency and independent investigation of officer-involved shootings last December when we announced an unprecedented memorandum of understanding between our department, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We already were doing everything covered by the MOU, but this memorandum formalized our procedures.

I have wanted to put this agreement in writing since I became Chief of Police. I initiated the drafting of this MOU and am pleased with the transparency and confidence it provides to other segments of our community.

U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson explained the agreement at a press conference on Dec. 9, 2015. The agreement proactively addresses allegations of the excessive use of force by a KCPD officer, marking an extraordinary partnership between local and federal law enforcement. As soon as there is a notification of such an allegation, the matter can referred to the FBI to make an unbiased assessment.

U.S. Attorney Dickinson explained the rest of the process:

“In some cases, the FBI may determine that a federal civil rights investigation is warranted and refer the matter to my office. In other cases, the FBI may determine that a state criminal investigation is warranted and refer the matter to the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, or the FBI may determine that police officers acted lawfully and appropriately, and no further investigation is warranted.

“Whatever the outcome, the public can rest assured that any and all allegations of excessive use of force by KCPD officers are being fairly investigated and justly resolved.”

What Is and Isn’t Public
In terms of public accessibility, a police shooting investigative case file is treated like any other investigative case file. No part of it is made public until the case is fully adjudicated. We don’t release the name of any suspect until he or she is charged. Police officers involved in a shooting are treated the same way: their names aren’t released unless they are charged with a crime in a court of law.

And just as we would not release video evidence in any other shooting case to protect the integrity of the investigation, we do not release police dash-cam or any other video evidence in an officer-involved shooting case until it is adjudicated and closed.

In fact, the Missouri Legislature nearly unanimously passed a bill this year restricting public access to police video, and Gov. Jay Nixon signed it into law. The measure blocks the public from accessing footage recorded by body-worn cameras or police dash-cam while investigations are ongoing. Once an investigation is over, any footage recorded inside a home, school or medical facility remains largely off-limits.

Let me be clear that no officer wants to be put in a situation in which he or she must decide to shoot someone. But suspects do threaten the lives of officers, and officers must employ their training and experience to decide how to best protect themselves and others. Sometimes this means they must fire their service weapon to stop the threat.

I take pride in how well-trained our officers are and am confident they have received some of the most cutting edge instruction in the country on how to navigate a possible shoot/no-shoot situation. I also am confident in the integrity and accuracy of our investigative processes. Multiple levels of review – both internally and by the FBI and U.S. Attorney – assure our community that the actions of any KCPD officer involved in a shooting are comprehensively reviewed for adherence to the law and department policy. The people of Kansas City deserve nothing less.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

I'm proud of our officers & will keep addressing difficult issues

There has been some concern about my recent comments to the Kansas City Star regarding police-involved shootings of black males. I’d like to point out the comments in the 2-minute video on the Star’s web site were filmed three weeks ago and were a very short portion of a much longer interview and article that are scheduled to be published soon. I think those additional pieces will lend greater context to what I said. 

I’d also like to welcome anyone with concerns about anything I say or do to contact me directly. I’d love to discuss the issues one-on-one and perhaps provide more context and the reasons behind my thinking. 

I do respect others’ opinions, and I apologize if anyone was offended by my comments about police-involved shootings of black males. I said some of those incidents were the result of unreasonable fear and poor training on behalf of the police. I was in no way referencing any particular incident or any particular department. Over the last several years, we have seen many officer-involved shootings of black males throughout the country. These have created outrage, and to ignore these sentiments and give no thought to what police can do to improve the situation would be irresponsible. 

The Kansas City Missouri Police Department is a very good department composed of dedicated men and women who regularly confront danger with courage and difficult situations with discernment and compassion. But just because we are good does not mean we can’t be better. We have initiated new training in the last few years to address tactical disengagement and redeployment, appropriate threat assessment, and to cope with mental health issues that could impact the way we do our jobs. (You can read more about the latest training in our department’s June newsletter​.) 

We have put great effort toward more positive interactions with other segments of the community. Because it’s not just police who can have unreasonable fears: Other members of the community can have unreasonable fears of police. We’re working together to overcome those. 

Other police departments in the metro area and nationwide are engaging in similar training and outreach. My comments in no way were meant to demonize law enforcement. It’s a profession for which I hold very deep respect and of which I am proud to call myself a member for 31 years. I respect those who serve and the labor organizations who represent them, as well. But police in the United States are facing unprecedented scrutiny, and we have some issues to work through. Talking about those issues may be uncomfortable, but it is needed, so I will continue to have those discussions. I will continue to address the changes that need to be made to improve the service of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, and what other members of the community can do to improve the safety of their neighborhoods. 

I am proud of all the members of KCPD. They are dedicated public servants who, in the face of some of the most difficult situations in our city, strive to live out our mission of protecting and serving with honor and integrity.

Monday, July 18, 2016

To our family and friends

Few people in the country right now are as worried when their loved ones go to work as the families of those who work in law enforcement. With the continued violence against police in our country, their spouses, children, parents, siblings and friends are experiencing anxiety and fear. 

I want these loved ones to know that you are on my heart. I care about everyone in this city, and when you hurt, I hurt. The emotions you are experiencing are not to be taken lightly. We have not forgotten about our department members’ loved ones. In fact, you are so important that we know your family members can’t do their jobs without you. It’s important that they come to work each day knowing that someone cares about them and their well-being. It makes the rest of what our department members must face on their shifts much easier.

And I’m not just talking about the family and friends of officers on the street, either. Every member on this department – sworn and non-sworn – is facing new stresses and fears. Those often come home with us and impact our families. KCPD families, please know that I understand what you’re going through. I’ve made the wellness of our members one of my top priorities as Chief of Police. They cannot serve our city effectively if they and their home lives are not OK. As Chief, I experience anxiety for our people, and that goes beyond just who’s on the payroll. It extends to their loved ones, as well.

I went to all six of our patrol division stations yesterday to visit our on-duty officers. I encouraged them – and I encourage all department members – to take time in their shifts to communicate with their family and loved ones. I want them to take some time and stop and call someone who cares about them. It’s important not only for them but also their families.

We, as members of a law enforcement agency, need support and care during these difficult and scary times, but so do our loved ones. I just want these families and friends to know the KCPD and I recognize your vital role and your need to be supported and encouraged, as well. Thank you for all you do.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

Statement on recent violence against police officers

The events in Dallas last night were horrific. I know the hearts of every member of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department – and the hearts of police around the nation – are very heavy today. In the words of Dallas Police Chief David Brown this morning, “Our profession is hurting. Dallas officers are hurting. We are heartbroken. Please pray for our strength during this trying time.”

We know those officers were killed running toward gunshots. That is what police do, and I know our officers would do the same because they have. I am proud of the members of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. I am proud of their bravery and courage. I am proud of the relationships they have forged with other members of our community. I am proud of the way we work together with the other residents of our city to improve the quality of life for everyone. I am proud of our officers’ compassion and judgment. I am proud of their willingness to learn new and better ways of doing things, to embrace change and to protect and serve their community when faced with more scrutiny and danger than ever before. 

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

KC NoVA is building foundation for change in urban core

As of today, Kansas City has experienced 46 homicides, which is a dozen more than at this point in the past two years. (It is on par, however, with where we were in 2012, so it’s by no means unprecedented.) I am as frustrated by this as anyone in this city. Lives are being lost senselessly.

The responsibility of stopping the violence does not rest solely on the police department, but we must and do play a role. Several people have asked me if the number of homicides means the Kansas City No Violence Alliance has failed. The answer to that is a definitive “no.”

I wrote about KC NoVA’s accomplishments in February, but it bears repeating that KC NoVA isn’t a unit of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. This multi-agency collaboration is currently composed of the KCPD, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, the Missouri Department of Corrections, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the City of Kansas City and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

KC NoVA marks the first time all of these entities have been at the same table – the first time we have shared intelligence and resources. This multi-agency collaboration uses police-related technology and front line patrol and investigative elements; identifies violent networks in Kansas City’s urban core and the membership within each network driving the violence. This gang- and group-related violence network intelligence is stored in the Law Enforcement Resource Center and is available to KCPD personnel and all NoVA partners.

It’s worth noting that KC NoVA only deals in gang- or group-related violence, and not all violent crime in Kansas City. It does not track or try to intervene in violent acts that arise from domestic relationships, arguments gone wrong or narcotics-related violence (although certainly there is overlap between people involved in those types of violence and NoVA clients).

Once those involved in violent criminal networks are identified, the NoVA collaboration works to reach the membership with a message that violence no longer will be tolerated; there is assistance available for those wanting to escape the life of violence; but choosing to remain a member of a violent network that continues its involvement in perpetrating violence in our city will result in certain, swift and severe enforcement actions.

About 67 percent of homicides in our city are associated with the groups NoVA investigates. To put that in perspective, the national homicide rate for all people is 2.2 per 100,000. In Kansas City, it’s about 22.2 per 100,000. But for members of the group NoVA has identified, the homicide rate is 550 per 100,000.

We know we have correctly identified the people who are responsible for the majority of Kansas City’s violent crime. So what are we doing about it? Everyone first must understand it has taken decades and generations for today’s culture of violence in the urban-core to form. That is not going to change overnight or even in two years. With KC NoVA, we are building the foundation for change. The impact of NoVA might not be visible in the homicide numbers right now, but I am confident that the relationships and processes are finally in place to turn the tide of violence. At a recent meeting for the Byrne Project of KC NoVA – which focuses specifically on the Prospect Corridor – a resident stood up and said he’d seen more positive changes in the neighborhood in the last few months than he had in all the years he’d lived there.

NoVA proactively is asking community members to enter into violence prevention contracts when investigators feel there is a risk for retaliatory violence. Patrol officers have been trained and work with NoVA and community partners to interrupt cycles of violence. This has never been done before.

Another example of how we’re fostering positive change is the new partnership we’ve forged with the Missouri Department of Corrections. Through this, we are reaching people who are in prison and on probation and parole. NoVA officers and social workers even are going into prisons and letting inmates know that there is hope to come back into their communities, be productive and leave behind the activities that got them incarcerated.

A key piece of KC NoVA is that social service piece. More than 130 people right now are receiving services from NoVA that range from addiction treatment to job skills training. From just January to May of this year, NoVA provided more than 1,100 job leads to clients. Frankly, I’d rather employ and educate our way out of violent crime than arrest our way out of it.

That’s why NoVA leaders are now in talks with the Kansas City School District to implement after-school programs. The hope is these programs will provide additional educational opportunities while keeping kids from being absorbed into a life of criminal activity. Some may call it extracurricular activities, but we call it future violence prevention.

In addition to strict enforcement, these are the kinds of things NoVA is doing. While homicide rates have risen precipitously in other cities (as yesterday’s report from the National Institutes of Justice shows), they have remained steady here. Of course I want there to be fewer murders and acts of violence, but it’s going to take time to turn around a culture of violence acceptance that has been years in the making. KC NoVA has engaged people from around the city to embark on that change, and I think the fruit it bears will be evident for years to come.

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Hiring continues in order to meet community's needs

The 24 new KCPD recruits filled out new-hire paperwork this
morning, June 6.

This morning, I welcomed the 24 members of the 157th Entrant Officer Class to the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. And just a few weeks ago, I swore in the 12 members of the 156th Entrant Officer Class when they graduated from the Kansas City Regional Police Academy. Those dozen officers are now out on the streets for their break-in period with field training officers.

When I announced that we would not fill many vacancies, some were under the mistaken impression that we wouldn’t hire any more police officers. This is not the case. We will continue to hire officers as the budget allows. We always are accepting applications, and you can learn more about the law enforcement hiring process on our web page. The newest recruits will undergo nearly eight months of training in our Academy, on topics from constitutional law to defensive tactics. (Here is more information about our curriculum).

We also are continuing to hire for non-sworn positions. We’re looking for detention facility officers and building operations technicians right now.

Eliminating positions – some of which have been vacant for years – does not mean our hiring processes have ground to a halt. It means we are doing the most we can with the budget we have. We will continue to bring in officers and non-sworn staff to fill spots vacated by attrition.

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Reducing positions while maintaining service

I wrote in my last blog about the staffing challenges the budget for this fiscal year (which began Sunday) presented to our department. We now have worked out exactly where we are going to reduce positions, and I wanted to share that with our community. Keep in mind we are eliminating positions, not people. All the positions that are being reduced this year already were vacant or are expected to be vacated through attrition. Many of these spots have been vacant for years, so it's not as though we're embarking on a sudden reduction in force.

To balance our budget, we had to decrease our 1,457 sworn law enforcement positions by about 8 percent. As a comparison, that’s about the equivalent of the staffing of a whole suburban patrol division (like South, North or Shoal Creek patrol divisions) and then some. Of course we spread these reductions out to minimize the impact on neighborhoods as much as possible. And not all are in patrol. Some will be detective spots, others are training officers, and more.

Here is how eliminated positions break down in some of the most visible bureaus – Investigations and Patrol:

  • 24 from the Investigations Bureau (includes Violent Crime, Violent Crime Enforcement and Narcotics and Vice divisions)
  • 85 from the Patrol Bureau:
     - Central Patrol reduced by 24 positions to 162 officers
     - Metro Patrol reduced by 14 positions to 150 officers
     - East Patrol reduced by 17 positions to 155 officers
     - South Patrol reduced by 13 positions to 94 officers
     - North Patrol reduced by 9 positions to 92 officers
     - Shoal Creek reduced by 2 positions to 92 officers
     - Special Operations Division (includes Tactical Enforcement, Canine, Mounted Patrol, Helicopter and Bomb & Arson) reduced by 2 positions to 81 officers
     - Traffic Division reduced by 4 positions to 85 officers.

This undoubtedly puts more pressure on the officers in the field and increases caseloads for those in investigations. As I mentioned previously, continued reductions in force could lead to increased response times for 911 calls. But we’re doing what we can to abate that.

We’ve come up with a number of ways to help reduce the demand on patrol officers so they can spend the time needed to provide the service our residents expect and deserve, rather than running from call to call. Our Tactical Enforcement officers are increasingly responding to 911 calls for service. Officers in the Traffic Enforcement Division are helping secure crime scenes – a job that used to belong to district officers. This frees the district officers up to answer calls or help with the on-scene investigation. I’ve shifted our Hot Spot program to put officers into the areas that are most in need of police attention. They’re working on everything from seeking out parole absconders and violent crime suspects to helping with community clean-ups and neighborhood meetings. You can read more about those changes in last month’s Informant newsletter.

We’ve realigned several things in investigations to streamline casework and ensure detectives properly follow up with all cases. Our Quality Control Unit is working with officers and detectives to ensure the best cases possible are presented for prosecution, which should help assist detectives as they take on more work.

We're always looking at ways to improve our efficiency. One of the things we're currently examining is how officers' shifts are scheduled. We must work within the budget we are allocated. As you read in my last blog, we have made many cost-cutting moves over the last few years. With law enforcement under more scrutiny than ever before, we will continue to serve our city with professionalism and integrity, no matter the circumstances or budget.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Upcoming budget presents staffing shortfalls

The City Council approved a budget last Thursday, March 24, that will have an impact on the Kansas City Missouri Police Department.

Before I explain what that impact will be, I first wanted to share the cost-saving measures our department has undertaken in the last two years, during which we have faced significant funding challenges:

  • More than 90 percent of our budget goes to personnel costs, so to balance our budget, we have eliminated 100 civilian and 60 law enforcement positions through attrition.
  • Another cost-cutting move was a buy-out last year, which saved the department $1 million.
  • No one at KCPD received a raise last year.
  • We were slated to purchase a little fewer than 80 vehicles last year to replace the ones with very high mileage and maintenance issues. We purchased fewer than 40 vehicles instead. We still had to pay to equip them all with everything from camera systems to radios, which can be almost as much as the cost of the vehicles, themselves.
  • We found a one-time funding source to pay for increased health insurance and ammunition costs.
  • Our department supports the radio system for the entire city, so we take on this cost for departments like Public Works, Fire and just about anyone who has a radio. We also answer all incoming 911 calls. We forward them to Fire Department dispatchers if the call is medical in nature or a fire. Therefore, our department is the only one that pays for 911 call-takers. They answered nearly 1.2 million calls in 2015.
We have cut a great deal of costs. And while we are doing our best to be as effective as possible with what we have, our data shows this is starting to have a negative impact. The time it takes for us to respond to emergencies has gradually increased since May 2015, by up to a minute in some places. We presently have 89 vacancies in our Patrol Bureau.

These are the officers who respond when you call 911. Here are the current law enforcement staffing levels, as compared to how many officers should be assigned, by patrol division:

Currently Assigned
Central Patrol
Metro Patrol
East Patrol
South Patrol
Shoal Creek Patrol
North Patrol

We have left these positions open to stay within our budget. We also have 100 civilian or non-sworn vacancies. This is critical, too, because we sometimes have to pull officers in to do their positions. Non-sworn staff members’ work also provides much of our departments’ backbone: officers couldn’t do their jobs without dispatchers, mechanics, detention officers, CSI technicians and so many more.

Unlike other city departments, we are required by state statute to have a zero balance at the end of each fiscal year. We cannot go over budget. (Mo. Statute 84.760) Nor do we use Public Safety Sales Tax funds to pay salaries. We have not put ongoing personnel costs on a tax that will sunset in a few years.

We gave a decision package to the City Council this year to hire 60 officers to fill some of the above vacancies. They chose not to do so. They did choose to fund a staffing study, which I had requested. But as I told the Council when I presented to them about our budget on March 3, the study inevitably will show we need more people. We won’t be able to hire them with our current allocation from the City, however.

The budget approved by the Council includes money to hire 48 new officers, but our average turnover is 58 officers per year. So with our current 89 vacancies, this will leave us with almost 100 vacancies by the end of the year. Vacancies will be achieved through attrition only. No lay-offs are planned.

To fund normal raises and health insurance increases at current staffing levels, our department needs $6 million more each year. However, we were $3 million short last year, so the next budget needed to go up by $9 million. With additional appropriations of just $5.2 million for fiscal year 2016-17, we essentially received a $3.8 million cut.

Raises are crucial to retaining quality, trained personnel. I’ve seen too many fantastic department members leave for other departments or careers for financial reasons. Our city loses their quality service, and our department loses all the money we invested in training them. It ends up costing much more than an annual cost of living increase.

I am supportive of the funds the City has made available in the FY 2016-17 budget to demolish and repair vacant properties. But that alone will not reduce, prevent and solve all crime. Police are part of that solution, along with engaged residents. Under the recently approved budget, however, the number of police available to assist will continue to dwindle.

We have achieved excellent results on tight budgets for years. We have been good stewards of the tax dollars entrusted to us. Because there are fewer of them, our officers are working harder than ever, and the risk to their safety is increased. The old adage that there is safety in numbers applies to law enforcement, too. Our community deserves a police department that can recruit and retain high-quality members. That makes residents and officers safer. Budget pressures, however, are making that harder and harder to do.

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