KCMO police numbers dropping, response times rising even for violent crimes

FOP Pres. says more officers needed
Posted at 7:52 PM, Mar 24, 2017
and last updated 2019-04-24 14:03:03-04

The budget for the Kansas City Police Department is increasing, but the number of officers on the street is dropping.

"I would prefer, and the officers would prefer, to get a pay increase versus having other officers beside them," said Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte.

The 41 Action News Investigators obtained reams of city documents showing violent crime rising, the number of police officers and man hours worked dropping, and response times, even for the most serious calls, rising.

Last November, a rolling gun battle broke out near Gregory and Prospect.

Without enough officers to respond, KCPD called for back up from eight neighboring agencies, including Leawood and Raytown.

The 41 Action News Investigators have been monitoring scanner traffic daily.

Routinely, dispatchers are heard asking for available cars and not finding them quickly.

One recent example was an armed robbery last week.

"Armed residential robbery... any car that can clear?" asked the dispatcher.

Ultimately, the dispatcher was able to find one local officer in the east zone and had to wait to find another officer in the south zone before the officers were sent to the potentially dangerous scene.

And it's not just the dangerous calls when response time can be an issue.

A teacher posted on the police department's Facebook page last November writing, "I am horrified that a special needs child was lost and it took officers between an hour and an hour and a half to respond."

"I don't think we have enough police officers on the street," said FOP President Brad Lemon. "I don't think the men and women that are out there have adequate back up." 

"I believe we need more officers on the street," said Kansas City Police Board of Commissioners President Leland Shurin at a February meeting.

City records the 41 Action News Investigators obtained show the number of KCPD officers is at its lowest level in a decade.

Since the end of 2007, the number of officers has generally been around 1,400.

The peak in the last decade was 1,427 officers at the end of 2013.

At the end of 2016, that number had dropped to 1,313, an 8 percent decline in three years.

Lemon said this year there's more cause for concern.

"We've already lost 13 people this year, and I've got a number on my desk that's triple that or quadruple that of people that are planning on leaving," he said.

Records also show the number of department man hours being worked each day has been trending down since 2014, while the average response times for even the most violent calls is going up.

The 41 Action News Investigators went directly to Forte to ask him about this potential safety risk.

"I understand the concern, but I sometimes think those numbers are misleading. It all depends on what we're dealing with," said Forte.

The 41 Action News Investigators exclusively obtained documents showing the assignment sheets for each sector of the police department.

Our investigation found numerous cases where minimum listed requirements for patrol officers on those sheets were not met.

It also revealed many patrol cars were not staffed in every sector, including one night when only three officers were covering the entire south region, one of the largest regions by square mileage in the city.

The 41 Action News Investigators asked Forte, "There's a lot of empty spots all over the city where they have cars, but no people in them, what about that?" 

"That's accurate," Forte responded. "But again when you talk about pay increases with the budget, you talk about pay increases with the budget every year." 

On March 2, leaders of KCPD asked for an additional $1.7 million for raises for mid-level officers.

That money was in addition to the department's $250.8 million budget for the upcoming year, which is a more than $8 million increase from the current budget.

On Thursday, the City Council voted down the request for the additional $1.7 million.

At that March 2 meeting, the 41 Action News Investigators asked Deputy Chief Patty Higgins about that request because Forte wasn't there.

The 41 Action News Investigators asked Higgins, "Can you tell me why the budget keeps going up and the number of officers keeps going down?" 

"Excuse me, thank you," said Higgins as she walked away.

The Investigators followed Higgins and asked her, "Can you tell us why Chief Forte wasn't here today?"  

"You need to contact our media liaison," Higgins replied.

City records also show homicides in Kansas City are at a 10-year high of 128 for 2016.

The number of those cases being solved has also dropped from a 67 percent clearance rate in 2014 to 48 percent last year.

As for the man entrusted to run the department, the 41 Action News Investigators asked about Forte's job performance before he announced his retirement Wednesday.

When the 41 Action News Investigators asked Kansas City Mayor Sly James if he's satisfied with Forte's leadership, he said "Yes."

Lemon had a different answer.

After a sigh and a long pause, Lemon said, "I don't think it's my position to say right now that the chief's doing a great job or he's not doing a great job."

"There's a lot of issues that we need to work out; we're working on those issues," Forte said.

Forte requested and the board approved a $134,000 staffing study of the police department.

The 41 Action News Investigators asked Forte, "Why should taxpayers pay for a study for staffing? Isn't that your job and your folks' job in the command staff as managers?" 

"It's basic in business, you need facts and figures when you're asking for more resources," Forte responded.

That study is expected to be completed at roughly the same time Forte is now scheduled to retire in May.