Friday, July 10, 2020

Budget cuts will affect police service to those who need it most

Like so many other cities, Kansas City is facing an economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Kansas City Missouri Police Department, along with all other City departments, is being asked to identify 4.5% of our budget that could be cut. For us, that’s about $10.5 million. We know that we will have to make sacrifices like everyone else, and we are actively working on the best ways to do that.

Typically, between 85% and 90% of our budget goes to personnel costs, so personnel would have to comprise a majority of the cuts. We already had dozens of open positions that will not be filled. We are not starting the next scheduled Academy class, and probably will cancel the next three classes.

What’s particularly unfortunate about canceling the next 30-member class is that it was to consist of 50% minority recruits. Our Employment Unit had done an excellent job recruiting people who reflect our community and come from diverse backgrounds. We hope they still will want to serve Kansas City when revenues allow them to. We typically have three to four Academy classes per year to keep up with attrition.

The problem with reducing personnel is that it inevitably means service gets reduced. Below is a heat map of where our 911 calls originated in the first half of 2020 (Jan. 1 – June 30). The darker blue areas showed where the most people called police for help. If you’re at all familiar with the socioeconomic make-up of our city, you will see that the most 911 calls come from the most impoverished areas of our city. Reducing police personnel will reduce service to the most economically disadvantaged of our residents. They are the ones who request our help the most, and they are ultimately the ones who potentially will suffer the most from reduced police staffing. (Click to see the map full size.)

Reduced officers on the street will lead to longer response times, an increased workload for those who remain, less personnel to devote to investigations and less time to engage in community policing efforts. And residents won’t just feel reduced staffing on the streets; they’ll feel it on the phone, too. Staffing shortages in our Communications Unit will lead to being put on hold when calling 911. This is an issue we have worked very hard to resolve since I became Chief by increasing Communications Unit staffing. No one should have to be put on hold during a life-or-death emergency.

We will do everything we can to provide the best service possible while working within budgetary constraints. Current fiscal realities mean prioritizing what residents need most and what can be reduced citywide. Those realities should be balanced with the increasing need for public safety in Kansas City.

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