Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Budget consequences

Today, the Board of Police Commissioners adopted a $175 million general fund budget for FY 09-10. This budget is $15 million short of what we would have needed to continue operating the department at 08-09 levels. This meant we had to make some hard choices, and try as we might, there will be an inevitable impact on public safety.

There has been much talk that this budget will not take officers off the street. Put simply, that’s impossible. No officers will be laid off, but attrition will reduce numbers. This budget has forced us to implement a hiring freeze. We have 21 fewer police officers than we did on this date last year. Another five to 10 will retire next month under our early retirement incentive program, and we typically lose one officer a week in normal turn-over. We have 31 recruits in the Academy right now who will be retained only if we are awarded a federal grant. Otherwise, they will be laid off, and our training investment in them will be lost. Even if we do keep them, they’ll likely make up just a third of the losses through attrition we expect this year.

A loss of officers will be felt immediately on June 1 when we must take 18 of them off the street to staff detention units at the patrol division stations. To cut overtime pay in the Headquarters Detention Unit, we have to pull all of the (civilian) detention officers downtown to Headquarters. We simply don’t have enough money to pay the overtime. As I had said would happen, cutting – in this case just freezing – civilian jobs will pull officers off the streets to do them.

Our median response time in March 2009 was 5.97 minutes. That’s from the time you call 911 to the time a police officer arrives at your door. That’s one of our lowest response times in history, and it’s been achieved by a larger workforce. When voters approved the public safety sales tax in 2002, they were promised 20 additional police officers a year. In the last 12 years, KCPD’s manpower has gone up 20 percent, and crime has fallen 30 percent. This is no coincidence. I fear that the budget cuts we got from the city will force us to undo our last three years of progress. Public safety comes with a dollar figure, and ours has been slashed.

About this time every year, there also are cries for consolidation with the city. This department is very open to that and has attempted it several times. We have repeatedly requested business plans from the City Manager’s Office on what such a consolidation would look like but have never received a plan. (Our department, however, has provided several such plans to the city. The latest was our plan to take over the policing of KCI Airport. The city declined to act on that report.) We are now in the process of combining IT functions with the city, but the city has yet to identify any savings that will result.

I can assure you that the men and women of this department will do everything they can, even with reduced resources, to continue to serve the public. We are motivated, and our officers have and will continue to put their lives on the line daily for the safety of our city.

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