Kansas City hasn’t been immune to this sort of political rhetoric and events that took place in May 2021 are proof. Mayor Lucas and several inner-city council members submitted to pressure from social justice activists and took secretive action to pass two ordinances taking back $42.8 million from the recently approved and adopted police budget to create undefined social programs. The mayor, who is a voting member of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners (BOPC), voted to approve the budget as a sitting commissioner just days before. Not only did the mayor not consult with the Chief of Police or any of his colleagues on the BOPC regarding the ordinances, he purposely failed to consult four members of the city council and members of the Kansas City area state delegation. The mayor deceptively withheld the ordinances awaiting the state legislature’s term recess, so as to prevent the state body from blocking the politically motivated action.
To fully grasp why this an issue, you need to understand how the KCPD is funded and why the BOPC has the sole authority for the allocation of the budget. The board’s authority is established under Chapter 84 of Missouri law. This law grants the BOPC sole management and control of the KCPD and sets the minimum threshold of the budget at 20% of the city’s general revenue. This statute also defines the process and who qualifies to become a member of the BOPC. The governor, with the consent of the state Senate, appoints four Kansas City residents to serve on the board. These commissioners serve four-year terms, with one member’s term expiring each year. The fifth member of the board is the mayor of Kansas City. Information on our current KCBOPC members can be found here.
Back to what happened in 2021. As it stood in April 2021, the approved police department budget took up nearly 26% of the city’s general fund – well above the 20% minimum threshold. The KCPD could not operate effectively with only 20% and has for many years required more than the minimum threshold set by Chapter 84. After buckling to pressure from anti-police groups, Mayor Lucas introduced ordinances disregarding this knowledge and the approved budget to defund the KCPD down to the minimum threshold of 20%. This was a loss of $42.8 million taken directly out of the control of the BOPC and assigned to the creation of undefined social programs under the control of the council-appointed (and mayor recommended) city manager. These ordinances would grant the city the ultimate discretion to decide how the money is spent in the name of the KCPD. There was no guarantee the money could be successfully negotiated back from the city to meet the needs of the KCPD which were defined during the budget appropriations process. The rushed, same day submission and passage of these ordinances was taken after the Missouri Senate had adjourned in May, the Chief was out of town, and without the prior knowledge of the BOPC and four duly elected city council members.
In May 2021, the BOPC sued the city over the ordinances after attempts to informally resolve the matter failed. A Jackson County judge ruled that the city leaders had in fact violated the law and affirmed that the BOPC has the sole authority to determine how funds are utilized – a win for those who support law enforcement in Kansas City.
But the fight isn’t over. The court ruling acknowledged the City does have discretion in allocating funds beyond the 20% threshold; however, that discretion must be exercised during the budget appropriations phase and not sheepishly done after the budget is approved and adopted. Funding discussions are already underway for next year’s budget and have always included detailed collaboration with the City. But the BOPC is bound by law to administer the Department and its funding and is not permitted to contract away that control. Remember, the reason we have a state-appointed commission of KC residents administering KCPD is to keep politics—such as that experienced with the surprise ordinance—out of public safety decision-making.
These cuts are especially surprising given that proponents of defunding police have largely reversed course – and quickly too. Minneapolis and Cincinnati residents soundly defeated ballot issues meant to “re-imagine” police funding. Portland made cuts but is now trying desperately to recruit officers in the face of growing violent crime. During his recent State of the Union Speech, President Biden even said that the answer isn’t to defund police.
To ensure the funding needs of the KCPD are properly met and not going towards more undefined social programs, Missouri Senate Bill 678, sponsored by Kansas City area State Sen. Tony Lueketmeyer, is being considered in the legislature. The goal of the bill is to increase the police funding minimum threshold from 20 to 25 percent of Kansas City’s general revenue fund. The bill was passed by the Missouri Senate this week.
We’ll keep an eye out, but the bottom line is that the policy of defunding police has been debunked. The notion that our city should cut police funding to the bare minimum does a disservice to every resident. Supporting our police isn’t about politics; it’s about keeping our communities safe.