Kansas City’s 1 percent earnings tax presently is up for debate in the Missouri Legislature and up for Kansas City voters to renew in April. The proceeds from this tax make up almost 40 percent of the City's general fund, which primarily supports public safety, including the police department budget. Without it, police would be forced to make significant cuts.
If the tax goes away, the City estimates that 810 sworn officer positions would need to be eliminated. That’s more than 80 percent of the officers we currently have on patrol. In total, we currently have about 1,350 sworn officers, which include investigative, training and specialty elements.
Because of this estimated reduction, police response to some incidents would be significantly reduced and possibly eliminated, such as non-injury car crashes, burglaries, fraud and forgery incidents. Response times would increase, and elements like those listed below that were instituted through the earnings tax could be cut. A Northland patrol division station also could be eliminated.
The elements listed below have done a tremendous amount of good in our city. They have changed the lives of young people, found and stopped people who committed violent crimes, served the growing northern part of our city, significantly reduced illegal narcotics and the violence that goes with them, protected children from harm and brought justice for victims and their loved ones. If the earnings tax was eliminated, however, KCPD would have to devote nearly all of its resources to responding to 911 calls for service. We could not afford to staff these and other specialized units.
Here are the services and elements KCPD has added using earnings tax funds in the last 40-plus years:
• D.A.R.E./G.R.E.A.T. Unit - The five officers in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education and Gang Resistance Education And Training unit reach approximately 3,000 Kansas City youth in 44 schools every year. Both programs are taught to children in grades 4 through 8, depending on the availability of the school’s classroom time. (One of the five officers is funded through the Jackson County COMBAT Tax.)
• Police Athletic League – Their mission is to offer youth the opportunity to interact with police officers in a positive setting while participating in cultural, mentoring and sports programs with the main emphasis being placed on academics. The PAL program serves as a constructive alternative to anti-social behavior and boredom during their development years into adulthood. I’ve discussed some of the amazing work PAL does on this blog, and it’s become a national model. PAL is supported by donations, but the officers are paid through earnings tax funds.
• Community Interaction Officers – These officers are the single point of contact for community members or groups to access a variety of not only police services, but community contacts and resources, as well. Each area of the city has an assigned representative (one at each of the six patrol divisions). These officers have contacts and relationships with community, cultural, church and professional organizations and strive to serve as a conduit to facilitate each working together for the benefit of the community they represent.
• School Resource Officers – Two officers each are assigned to three high schools in the Kansas City Missouri School District: Northeast, Central Academy of Excellence and Southwest. The SRO program places officers in schools in an effort to create and maintain a safe learning environment and also create a positive image through interaction with students, parents, staff and administrators. The officers take a proactive approach with the students to help identify youth at risk, try to intervene with appropriate action plans, build healthy and trusting relationships with the KCMO Police Department and encourage a forward-looking approach to deal with the pressures today's young people face.
• Community Action Network – Six of these officers are assigned at three centers: Westside, Blue Hills and 49/63. They are the definition of “community policing.” They monitor issues within their assigned neighborhoods and work with a wide variety of departmental and City groups to combat the issues. They also do covert operations to follow known criminals in the KC Metro area in an effort to catch them in the act of committing crimes. Our CAN officers have been featured in the New York Times and in national documentaries for their work.
• Shoal Creek Patrol Division – Serves a 75-square-mile area (for perspective, the whole city of St. Louis is 66 square miles) of northeast Kansas City that is home to about 90,000 residents. Officers respond to 911 calls, engage in proactive policing to prevent crime and work with community members and businesses. A dedicated Property Crimes Section investigates property crimes that take place in the division.
• Helicopter Unit – Officers in the unit fly approximately 1,700 hours per year. They assist in searches for missing and/or endangered adults and children, provide assistance to officers on the ground in locating individuals attempting to elude arrest, and provide information from overhead regarding police pursuits (traffic information to help officers safely pursue and apprehend individuals). They also gather information and intelligence to provide safety during large public gatherings like the World Series Victory Parade and rally, St. Patrick’s Day parade, large disturbances, etc. They provide coverage 15.5 hours each day, and are subject to call out. Kansas City Police also are the only law enforcement agency with a helicopter in the metro area, so KCPD Helicopter officers regularly assist other agencies on both sides of the state line. The helicopters were paid for through a combination of public safety sales tax and grant funds, but the salary of the officers who fly them comes from the Earnings Tax.
• Canine Unit – The Canine Unit does more than just apprehend suspects. They search for articles of contraband or evidence, locate lost individuals and bodies of the deceased, detect narcotics and search for any possible explosives at large-scale events. Ten officers, two sergeants and their 12 canine partners work 20 hours a day, and can be called out at any time.
• Drug Enforcement Unit – All elements in the unit work in conjunction with federal partners to investigate and prosecute violent offenders. The unit has received numerous accolades from the U.S. Department of Justice for their work. This unit is readily available for 24/7 surveillance when requested. DEU is part of the Narcotics and Vice Division and is composed of the following squads:
- Interdiction – Members stop and investigate large quantities of drugs coming in and out of the city on mass transit, through shipping companies and more. In 2015, Interdiction members seized $46.3 million worth of narcotics and more than $1 million in cash in connection with illicit drugs.
- Career Criminal – Members go after repeat violent criminals involved in crimes like murder, robbery, kidnapping, shootings, and drug and gun trafficking. In the last couple years, members of this squad worked on such high-profile cases as the quintuple homicides in the Woodbridge neighborhood, the highway shooter investigation and Craigslist and convenience store robbery rings.
- Metro Meth – Members respond to, investigate and prevent methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution operations. This squad is the only regional group certified to dismantle clandestine labs in the metropolitan area.
- Administrative – Members work on cases involving prescription drug fraud and abuse and prepare search and arrest warrants for other members of the unit. They also make public presentations to schools, community groups and health centers regarding illegal drug recognition and trends. The squad works in conjunction with the DEA for the nationwide Drug Take Back initiative to safely dispose of all expired and unwanted prescription drugs.
- Undercover – Members investigate mid- to high-level drug activity. The evidence they gather is used in investigations of larger-scale trafficking operations for federal and state prosecutions. Members of this squad investigate heroin overdose deaths for supplier prosecution.
• Crimes Against Children Section – These detectives investigated approximately 1,100 cases in 2015 in which an adult victimized a child age 16 or younger. The types of cases this section is responsible for bringing to prosecution include multiple types of child sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, endangerment, parental kidnappings and custody violations. Crimes Against Children also works with the Homicide Unit to co-investigate any incidents of a child dying as a result of abuse, neglect or endangerment.
• Cold Case Investigative Elements – Detectives have reviewed thousands of unsolved sexual assault and murder cases in the last decade and have gotten justice for hundreds of victims and their families. The oldest case they solved was a homicide from 1969. While they continue to work cold cases, many of these detectives also now search for missing persons – both adult and juvenile.
Some people might question the need for such specialized units, but we are the largest police department in the largest city in the state of Missouri. These specialized services are needed to address crime that most smaller cities wouldn’t encounter. And our work with youth is critical, too. Many of the youth we work with grow up impoverished, surrounded by drugs and violence. Without some kind of intervention, they can succumb to the negative influences they’re surrounded by and become another generation of people who commit crimes that harm others’ lives and property. I view the work of our Police Athletic League, DARE/GREAT Units and School Resource Officers as a vital crime prevention service.
The services listed above were created with and are supported by the funds generated by the earnings tax. They are not a luxury. They are necessary to effectively police a large and diverse area like our city. But if the tax is eliminated, most – if not all – of these units could be eliminated, too. Remaining staff members would largely be assigned to respond to 911 calls.
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