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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