A question on how the Kansas City police plan to address an increase in the number of drive-by shootings ignited a heated exchange Tuesday between Mayor Sly James and Police Chief Darryl Forté.
In January, there were 39 reported drive-by shootings. During the same period a year ago, there were 23 such shootings.
That prompted James to ask police commanders during the monthly meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners what their strategy is to reduce those numbers.
Instead, Forté said a substantial number of drive-by shootings, homicides and other violence often occurs in areas of the city where the streets are littered with trash, abandoned properties, broken streetlights and crumbling sidewalks.
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Forté said the department needs additional officers and other resources to help curb the problem.
That response did not please James, who said, “That is a legitimate question and it is one that still hasn’t been answered and even if we had more people.”
Last week, the city’s budget proposal projected an increase in public safety funds. Included in that, the Police Department is scheduled to see a budget increase from $242.5 million to $250.8 million. However, that does not include money to hire additional police officers. Instead, the money is projected to go for wage and benefit increases.
“There is no question in my mind that if we had more officers on the streets, then it would cut down drive-by shootings,” said Leland Shurin, board president.
The Police Department has embarked on a staffing deployment study, which should be finished by May 1. It may shed light on how to better deploy existing staff.
Funding for public safety — consisting of police, fire, ambulance and the Municipal Court — is projected to increase $17 million in the next fiscal year, while revenue is only projected to go up $6 million. The means the city has to cut other non-public-safety functions. Over the last decade, the city has laid off 600 workers, James said.
“If we had more people picking up trash on the street, it would cut down on the amount of trash; it works both ways. I mean, there are only so many dollars,” he said. “If you want to talk about it, then hear the truth, then let’s talk about the truth. There are only so many dollars out there.”
Last year, Forté suggested reallocating some money earmarked for hiring extra police officers toward demolishing abandoned properties in crime-ridden neighborhoods.
Crime frequently occurs in unkempt neighborhoods, he said.
After the meeting, James said police officials had failed to answer his question about their plan to reduce drive-by shootings.
“Removing trash isn’t going to stop drive-by shootings, and some drive-by shootings take place in broad daylight so you don’t need lights, so the problem remains that there has been a precipitous rise in the last few years, and it is something that is concerning,” James said.
Forté said efforts such as the Kansas City No Violence Alliance and assigning police officers to patrol high-crime areas has reduced crime, but more work is needed.
While the exchange appeared heated at times, Forté later said he thought their dialogue was constructive.
“We both want the same result, and that is a reduction in the number of homicides,” he said. “The city has a role just like the Police Department; we both have a role in reducing crime, and in my opinion unkempt neighborhoods are a breeding ground for crime, and statistics show that.”