The Kansas City Council is close to an agreement that would add 15 emergency call-takers and 24 officers to the police department.
The plan would cost the city $394,500 more than the department’s original spending blueprint. Seven of the call-takers and nine of the officers would be added next fall. The others were already in the submitted budget.
The additions will be quite popular with most Kansas Citians. At a final budget hearing Thursday, residents repeatedly told the City Council that public safety should be the city’s top priority. Members of the council agreed.
We do, too. But we’re not convinced that the city or the police looked hard enough to find savings in existing public safety programs to pay for what is a clear need in the community.
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Last year, for example, an outside consultant recommended the police department disband its mounted patrol unit, which was found to be costly and inefficient. Instead of following that advice, however, the department called for spending more than $600,000 on the mounted patrol in the next fiscal year.
Ending the mounted patrol would have provided more than enough money for the additional call-takers and officers.
The manpower study suggested several other steps the department could take to more efficiently distribute personnel. Most have been ignored.
The point isn’t that people are more important than horses, although that seems pretty obvious. The point is that the department and the council must set priorities for public safety spending, just like everything else. Sadly, both appear loath to do so.
The result is an extraordinarily expensive police budget. Missouri law requires Kansas City to spend 20 percent of its general fund on the police. This year, that would be about $103 million.
Instead, the department will spend nearly $225 million from the general fund — more than double the amount required by law. In fact, roughly 87 percent of the city’s 1 percent earnings tax now pays for the police budget, and nothing else.
If the trend continues, the police won’t be the most important thing the city does. It will be the only thing.
This is not the department’s fault necessarily. But because the city lacks regular oversight of the police force, the budget is the only way taxpayers can seek efficiencies in the department. This year, their elected representatives largely passed up that opportunity.
Again, Kansas Citians may applaud that approach. At Thursday’s hearing, one council member defended the police budget, saying people don’t want to live in a city that isn’t safe.
That’s undoubtedly true. But a well-policed city with poorly maintained public parks and swimming pools, malfunctioning traffic lights, weedy vacant lots, unsupervised landlords, uncollected trash, unlit streets and closed public spaces can be pretty grim, too — and a breeding ground for crime.
The City Council should keep that in mind.