Mayor Lucas pushes back on Kansas City Police Department’s proposal to increase budget

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Mayor Quinton Lucas took to social media Friday to voice concerns about the proposed Kansas City police budget, which calls for an increase in spending and includes more money for police officers and other crime-fighting services.

Police Chief Rick Smith distributed the budget request to members of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners earlier this week. The $272 million request is a 6% increase and calls for money to pay for new police academy classes.

“This budget, as requested, will provide funding to hold academy classes to bring the Department back to a level that allows the Department to adequately manage the workload of the City, be responsive to the needs of the community and provide pay increases that are desperately needed in order to retain members of this Department,” Smith wrote in his budget note to the police board.

However, Lucas contended there currently is enough money in the budget to fund academy classes and provide raises for officers and civilian workers.

“I don’t get that,” Lucas told The Star. “I don’t get why we are not giving our officers raises. I don’t get why we’re not hiring new classes. I don’t get why we have a thousand other controversies that are being claimed, when the budget would show us that is not the issue.”

The police board is scheduled to discuss the proposed budget during its monthly meeting on Tuesday morning.

The department prepares a budget for the board to review and approve that it feels enables it to best serve the citizens of Kansas City,” police spokesman Sgt. Jacob Becchina said in an email to The Star. “This happens every year at this time. That process is underway at this time and the board will be reviewing the requested budget later next week.”

Lucas said the budget document is 270 pages and the board needs time to thoroughly review it. He plans to proposed delaying the budget discussion until Wednesday, when the police board could hold a special meeting.

Police spending has been controversial in recent months. Earlier this year, board members filed a civil lawsuit against Lucas and the city after they approved a measure cutting the police budget back to 20% of the city’s general fund, the minimum required by state law.

The City Council’s approval of two ordinances orchestrated by Lucas sought to reduce the department’s budget by $42.3 million. It placed that money, about 18% of KCPD’s $239 million budget, in a separate fund. Its use would be the matter for City Manager Brian Platt and police commissioners to negotiate.

But earlier this month, a Jackson County judge ruled that the council overstepped its authority and violated Missouri law with its plan to reallocate the funds.

‘Defund itself’

Lucas said the City Council approved money for the department to pay for 1,413 police officers, but the number of officers is expected to fall below 1,200 by the end of October.

At the September board meeting, officials reported there were 1,214 law enforcement officers.

Under the current police department budget there is $17 million that remains unspent that could be used to pay to hire more patrol officers that the public has asked for, Lucas said.

“I think it’s important at least for the public to know and understand that the City Council has actually funded more positions with the police department that are currently filled. And I think they should just be filled.”

Lucas also said Friday that he questioned the request to spend nearly $2 million on an infrared camera system for the helicopter and other aircraft devices. That money could pay for a recruiting class. He also found it questionable the department would propose spending $400,000 for a spare helicopter engine.

“I have never seen a police department work so hard to defund itself,” he said. “We’re not paying salaries. We’re not getting pay raises, We’re not hiring people.”

In his budget note, Smith said the current equipment is at the end of its life and has become more unreliable. His plan is to replace three camera systems.

“The system is failing at an increasingly concerning rate and parts are becoming more scarce,” he said.

Lucas said the recent lawsuit showed the importance of how the city funds public safety.

“This is a message from the judge, which was, we need to pay a lot more attention to the budget that’s passed, both the one recommended by the Board of Police Commissioners and ultimately debated by the City Council, because we cannot simply rubber stamp these budgets anymore,” he said. “As a board of police commissioners, we have a true role here.”

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