Leaders in Kansas City, Mo., announced a proposal Thursday that would significantly reduce funding for the city’s police department to the minimum allowed by state law and reallocate much of the remaining money to a community fund. 

Mayor Quinton Lucas, with the support of several city councilmembers, said he introduced two ordinances that will give the city more influence in how the Kansas City Police Department spends its money along with new crime prevention efforts. 

“I think it finally gives the people of Kansas City some accountability of policing activities in their city,” he said during a news conference, the Kansas City Star reported. “I hope it compels the police department to engage more actively in a lot of our newer approaches to violence prevention.”

The police department is governed by the Board of Kansas City Police Commissioners, whose members are appointed by the governor, although the mayor gets a seat on the board. The City Council has little say over the department aside from approving its budget, according to the newspaper. 

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The first measure would amend the fiscal year 2021-22 budget to fund the department the 20% – or some $44 million – minimum of the city general fund revenue, which is the lowest the city can devote to police funding under Missouri law. The remaining money would be diverted to a Community Services and Prevention Fund, under the second ordinance. 

Lucas said the plan is not an effort to defund the police but rather seeks collaboration. 

“Our plan does not defund. It seeks collaboration. It does not ignore the need for police, but it also does not ignore the root causes we must work hard to address,” he tweeted Thursday. “And, working together, it funds a new recruit class while making sure we focus holistically on safety.”

Kansas City Manager Brian Platt and the police commissioners would decide on how to spend that money. Calls and messages to the city and the Kansas City, Missouri Fraternal Order of Police — the union the represents rank-and-file officers — were not returned. 

In a Facebook post, the union said defunding police departments elsewhere have led to increases in violent crime.

Some city council members who oppose the plan said they were blindsided by the proposals hours before they were announced. 

“This is absolutely the worst piece of legislation since I’ve been here at City Hall,” longtime Councilwoman Teresa Loar said, according to KSHB-TV. “You take $46 million out of the police budget and who gets hurt the most is our families, our children. How do they stay safe and secure if there are no police around?”

Lucas said he developed the plan after an uptick in violent crime last year and after years of additional police funding that he says has failed to yield results. 

“I was born in 1984. Since that time, roughly 4,467 Kansas Citizens have been murdered,” he said. “That is more than the Americans that were killed in Afghanistan. That’s more than the Americans killed in the war in Iraq. This has been the greatest disappointment, the greatest challenge for our community for generations.”

The city recorded 176 homicides last year, up from 151 in 2019, according to police figures. 

The department is already struggling to retain officers amid a hiring freeze. On his online blog, Police Chief Richard Smith said the department was losing at least eight officers each month to attrition and has not had an academy class since February 2020. 

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“We are down 116 officers and do not have the budget to replace them,” he wrote in a post published on May 14. “In short, our current hiring freeze is setting the Department back in adequate staffing for years to come.”

He said other departments within the police force are also experiencing staffing shortages. He cited the crime laboratory, which is down to 11 staffers – a 15% reduction – that he said will lead to case backlogs and delays in solving crimes.

Smith called on residents to ask City Council members to support giving the department a share of the $97.5 million the city received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act “so that we can provide the timely response, criminal investigations and much-needed community engagement you deserve.”

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