It’s budget time again in Kansas City, and as our budget comprises nearly 38% of the City’s general fund, there has understandably been a lot of discussion about it, and there should be. Board of Police Commissioners President Nathan Garrett stated at last week’s Board meeting that KCPD needs more officers than the ten additional officer positions currently in the City’s proposed budget.
The Kansas City Star published an editorial Monday stating KCPD does not need 65 more police officers, which is a number Commissioner Garrett cited at the meeting. That would bring us up to 1,400 total officer positions. After Kansas City’s 1968 riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., then-Mayor Ilus Davis convened a Commission on Civil Disorder. The report recommended in August 1968 that KCPD should have 1,500 officers. That was more than 50 years ago, and we have never met that goal.
This department has made many efforts to enhance relationships with the community, but with our current staffing, officers are primarily limited to responding to 911 calls. This limits proactive and community policing.
The Star editorial points out that Kansas City has more officers per 10,000 people than cities like San Francisco, Tampa or Dallas. Those cities also have remarkably less violent crime. In 2019, Kansas City’s homicide rate per 100,000 was 30.1. That means for every 100,000 residents of our city, 30.1 were murdered. That rate was 4.6 for San Francisco, 6.9 for Tampa and 15.5 for Dallas. Only one of those cities barely reaches half our homicide rate. So to have a budget discussion of the number of officers we need solely based on what works per capita in other cities is an insult to the victims of violent crime in our community.
The Star editorial’s concern over our request for additional officers is it would negatively impact the City’s overall budget. The Police Department isn’t looking to take money from all other City services. We are a partner whose job is to secure the safety of the City. If the City is unsafe, people won’t want to live, work or visit here, and that would hurt everyone.
Commissioner Garrett pointed out that it’s our job and responsibility to put forth a budget request for what we think appropriately meets the needs of this city. In fact, Commissioner Garrett pointed out several things in response to the Editorial Board’s questions days prior to its publication, which I’ve included here:
Editorial Board Question: As you know, the proposed budget calls for spending 38% of the general fund on police, almost twice the level required by state law. Do you believe there should be any limit on how much money taxpayers should spend on the department? Are there any ways the department might find savings in its own spending to provide funding for additional officers?
Nathan Garrett’s Answer: We really don’t think of it in terms of measuring our proposal against the overall budget (percentage wise) when we make our ask; though I recognize, of course, that there’s a natural, process-oriented limit to how much of the City’s revenue our services can consume. Our responsibility is to identify critical needs we believe translate into more effective and responsible police services for our community. How that translates vis-à-vis the overall City budget is what it is; though, again, we have the overall budget in mind when we engage in the process and fully recognize the balance of the City’s obligations. We’re a team player, but our job is to fight for the law enforcement needs of this City; it’s the job of others to balance those needs against other services and responsibilities. As for finding internal savings, we’re constantly engaged in that process and recognize our role in responsibly managing the resources we’re given. To this end, we also aggressively pursue grant funding and other community-oriented sources of revenue in an effort to augment the ask we make on the City. Chief among these contributors is the Police Foundation, which has been a stalwart in providing supplemental funding to our Department. These outside sources of revenue reduce the ask on the City and are something we feel a responsibility to pursue—and are eternally grateful for the response received. Lastly, we’ve made some very difficult, less-than-popular decisions within the Department to address enforcement priorities. Dismantling Mounted Patrol might have been the most vocally controversial thing we’ve done, but we felt it was the right thing to do in light of the alarming rise in gun violence. Those positions, as you know, were allocated to our homicide division. Likewise, we made other internal personnel maneuvers—following our audit review process—that allowed us to increase our assault squads (non-fatal shootings) by 12 detectives. While we’re always taking from something to give to something in these situations, that’s the recurring responsibility we have—make certain our resources are used in the most effective and efficient manner to address the most critical needs of our City.
Editorial Board Question: Should the police board be more active in making those spending choices, since it controls the department, not the City Council?
Nathan Garrett’s Answer: The Board is always involved in this process, and our conversations with the Chief and his staff are near daily. The monthly Board meetings constitute a fraction of the time dedicated to the operations of this Department—fiscally and otherwise. And while it is not the Board’s job to micro-manage the daily spending of our resources, those expenditures are naturally related to our operational priorities and initiatives—something we are heavily engaged in. So, yes, we should be involved in our spending choices at a macro level and continue to ensure we have the right staff with the right directions in place to carry out the more daily, micro-oriented decisions.
Editorial Board Question: If there is additional information you wish to provide, please do so.
Nathan Garrett’s Answer: We are admittedly a large bureaucracy, and as such, our efficiencies are not at a level of satisfaction for any of us—especially those of us in the private sector. We can and should continue to aggressively police ourselves and do our level best—even in the face of labor, legal and bureaucratic challenges—to make the best, most efficient use of our resources focused directly and most intently on the safety of our community.
This police department takes financial responsibility very seriously. We’re not looking to take over the city. We’re trying to find ways to address the violent crime issue in a way that is both reasonable and effective. Adding police officers is one of the only proven ways to do so that is within our control. This is discussed in the book Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt.
We firmly believe more officers can help. The number of officers needed obviously is up for discussion, but to base that solely on per capita numbers and dollars is short-sighted and wrong.
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