Let’s Talk Funding
There’s been a lot of talk over the past two years in cities across our nation about defunding the police. The issue is purely political in nature – a trojan horse for what those behind the war on police really want: to abolish police departments entirely by inserting political ideology. No reasonable person who looks at the issue in any sort of detail would conclude that defunding police is a good idea—likely why so many politicians are running from the once popular notion.
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.
Kansas City Police Need Our Support
There is much to say on policing, generally, and as applied to Kansas City, specifically, both in terms of front line observations and experiences, and on what lies ahead. Having served with, in and among law enforcement agencies and officers all around the world, I say without reservation that the men and women of the KCPD are some of the finest officers and staff I have ever known. This city is blessed, but it is not hyperbole to suggest that excellence and good fortune is at risk.
Today, media and politicians—most of whom know nothing about the profession of policing—attack the profession, its funding, training and personnel. The criminal actions of a police officer in Minneapolis set ablaze a firestorm that swept the country and upended much of the progress and relationships enjoyed by police and the communities they serve. Suddenly, law enforcement at large was labeled and viewed—by many with no prior personal experience suggesting it—as a racist, corrupt, ‘good ol’ boy’ network deserving of total overhaul or, even more nonsensically, abolishment. Many officers left, while others expedited their retirement, all in a desire to leave behind the chaos and perceived disdain that surrounded them. And, equally concerning, it has gotten much harder—impossible with reduced funding—to fill the void with qualified recruits. When young, I dreamed of being a police officer. Is that the dream of today’s youth—particularly in light of this moment? For most of us, our most consequential judgment is on display after hours, weeks or even months of deliberation and thought; the most consequential judgment of a police officer is on display in a split second, when it matters most. And at that second is where the quality of our candidates is laid bare.
As Commissioner, I fought against attacks on KCPD’s funding and was regrettably compelled to file a lawsuit against the City for brazenly and deceptively taking back over $40 million dollars of allotted and adopted funding, potentially crippling key programs and personnel. This lawsuit resulted in the circuit court agreeing with the Police Commission and ordering the restoration of the funds. But the battle is not over. We must fight to ensure KCPD remains properly funded and able to restore the personnel lost at an alarming rate. For anyone sitting the sidelines, believing this surely will not affect them, you’re wrong. It will and it does.
The work of protecting our community is high stakes and laced with danger. Officers’ decisions, right or wrong, carry enormous consequences. While some may attempt to “re-imagine” policing, crime fighting is an ugly business, and one populated with folks bent on community harm long after the talkers have gone to bed. At the same time, we must hold officers to a high standard, while also giving them our respect and deserved support. We can do both.
Tremendous change has permeated my three decades in law enforcement: changes in laws, tactics, awareness and outcomes. Law enforcement must always change, listen to and appreciate its communities’ concerns. And, critically, be diligent at avoiding the insular hardening of ‘us vs. them’ that can rob one’s ability to be better. But to suggest, as some in public office and print repeatedly have, that justice and peace for our crime-ridden communities lies in “re-imagining” policing, passing vague proclamations, and rewriting manuals is to be more interested in political theatre than serious leadership. Yes, community relationships are critical to our success. But if we continue to lay the plight of our troubled neighbors at the feet of the police, we’re going to remain trapped in this cycle of blame while the people who need them most go unserved.
While many surely wished for my permanent exit, I won’t retire from supporting law enforcement, because the security of this community depends on it. That’s why I’m supporting Kansas City Community Organized Police Support (KC COPS). It’s a new organization which is throwing their weight behind our officers and the communities that rely on them. KC COPS is committed to speaking out against policies and persons bent on making our city less safe and less accountable. We need to turn back from the path that has led to the ruin of many great American cities, realize it’s at our door, and do something about it. While admiring of the efforts of many to bend the arch of our existence, tonight, we get this world as it is, not as we wish it to be. And that world still needs people willing to mind the gap between order and chaos. KC COPS stands ready to support those who do.
Nathan Garrett is the former president of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners. He’s a former state trooper, FBI special agent, and state and federal prosecutor. He is a supporter of Kansas City Community Organized Police Support (KC COPS). Learn more at KCCOPS.com.