Passengers at Kansas City International Airport should not experience any significant changes in security measures after Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith announced that police officers will no longer patrol the facility.
KCPD officers will continue to respond to 911 calls or any requests for assistance from KCI Police. The eight officers currently tasked with patrolling the airport have been assigned to other patrol functions beginning Sunday.
Mayor Quinton Lucas said that while he aware that the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners had recently voted to reassigned the officers at KCI, he did not expect the action to take place so quickly.
“It was my view that this was the sort of thing that was promised at the beginning of the year, much like we had downtown foot patrols promised,” Lucas said Wednesday. “Much like we had other patrol based issues promised, and we’re seeing that change made.”
“I do not think that the delivery of services is something that should be materially altered based on any of these items. And while I understand different priorities and all of that, you have to ask at a certain point, where’s the money going.”
A spokesman for the Kansas City Aviation Department said the agency is aware of Smith’s announcement reassigning officers onsite at the airport.
“The department understands the need for KCPD to assign officers where it deems they can do the most good in protecting and serving the community,” Joe McBride said in an email to The Star.
“After the eight KCPD officers leave it will be business as usual from the customer’s point of view with the KCI Airport Police force on duty 24/7 as they have been for the last 27 years,” he said.
Smith said ongoing staffing challenges has forced the department to make the changes. A review of staffing at the two patrol divisions north of the Missouri River showed they were down by 24 officers.
More officers are needed to patrol that large section of the city as well as high crime areas located south of the Missouri River, he said.
As a result of a number of unexpected officer retirements and resignations, staffing numbers have sharply decreased. Smith has previously said the number of sworn officers is expected to drop below 1,200. The police department is budgeted for the current fiscal year to staff 1,400 officers.
The aviation department is authorized to have 46 KCI airport police officer positions. Similar to KCPD, the aviation department is experiencing the same challenges filling open positions in many of its divisions, including airport police, McBride said.
“We are working with City Human Resources to fill positions and have held and participated in hiring fairs. We have recently increased salaries as an incentive,” he said.
On Tuesday, Sgt. Brad Lemon, president of Lodge 99, the union that represents Kansas City officers, said the department needs to be more competitive in attracting new hires and retaining current officers. The department has a large number of officers who are eligible to retire by the end of year and in 2022.
“What we’re talking about is not just this year’s losses and not next year’s problems,” Lemon said. “We cannot continue to lose people at the rate we’re losing and not be able to recruit.”
“There’s got to be a conversation of how we’re going to pay the men and women that are still here and how we’re going to keep them.”
KCPD officers respond to incidents at KCI but are not compensated by the Aviation Department.
“Some of these changes seem a bit punitive, which is unfortunate because I think the City Council has committed to a number of things, voting for a budget that had a line item,” Lucas said. “And we don’t have that, perhaps there’s confusion, perhaps their accounting tricks, but to me, it’s most important that we actually make sure we’re delivering that which is listed in so many budget items.”