KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There could soon be fewer police officers on patrol in Kansas City.
The possibility comes as deadly violence is headed toward a grim record for 2020. There have been 145 homicides in Kansas City, Missouri, so far this year, compared with 119 at this same time last year.
One of the people killed in Kansas City this year is 19-year-old Daisy Martinez. She died on Sept. 16, after someone shot into a crowd during a celebration of Mexican Independence Day.
Earlier that same day, 16-year-old Anthony Strassle was killed. His family said he was fatally shot while getting food for his dad.
In the midst of historic violence, the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, like all other city agencies, is facing a potential 11% across-the-board budget cut due to a roughly $60 million revenue shortfall, largely the result of the pandemic.
At Tuesday’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting, Chief of Police Rick Smith noted 90% of his agency’s budget is spent on personnel.
An 11% cut could amount to roughly $26 million for KCPD and possibly hundreds of layoffs.
"There’s no way we get there without cutting personnel, there’s just no way,” Smith said.
There may be a significant KCPD force reduction whether there are major budget cuts or not.
Currently, there are 1,375 budgeted positions for KCPD officers. But the number of working officers is 1,331, and that number is expected to drop.
At the police board meeting, KCPD command staff said to expect retirement and resignations at the end of the year.
Additionally, due to current budget constraints, there are no academy classes to fill the likely reduction in force, even without budget cuts.
“I do not support cutting officers. I do not support closing a station, and I think that there are better ways that we can make sure that we continue to deliver necessary services in Kansas City,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said.
As the 41 Action News Investigative Team has been reporting for the last several years, KCPD staffing has been an ongoing issue.
The I-Team also found there appears to be a correlation between an increase in the number of KCPD officers and a decrease in violent crime.
Now, with the ongoing strain of the pandemic and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Kansas City has seen numerous protests as well as record-setting violence.
For the first time in months, public citizens had their chance to sound off at the police board meeting Tuesday and offered a wide variety of views.
“I believe with less officers on the street, crime will continue to rise. I now own a firearm and I’ve taken shooting lessons,” said Andrea Wooten during the board meeting’s public comment time.
“Why have we yet to put together a community task force to make recommendations to the Board of Police Commissioners?” Sheryl Ferguson questioned during the public comment period.
KCPD Deputy Chief Greg Volker said some of the work the department is doing is being undermined by the pandemic.
Specifically, he said many non-violent crimes, such as theft, simply aren’t being prosecuted.
Commissioner Nathan Garrett believes that lack of prosecution is having an impact on overall crime, including violence.
Garrett also said he would fight for KCPD to remain under state control through the board as opposed to completely turning it over to city leaders.
“We would rue the day we get rid of the Board of Police Commissioners and let politicians take control of the police department camouflaged as efficiencies,” he said.
But city leaders do have control of KCPD’s budget.
Councilwoman Katheryn Shields addressed the issue of potential cuts by teleconference at the board meeting.
“Unlike the federal government, we can’t print money in the basement," she said. "We can only spend the money we have."
Lucas also said the leaders of all the city’s agencies, including KCPD, have about the next five or six months to find cost savings within their departments before the politicians make the final budget decisions sometime early next spring.