A request by Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté that officers get the same pay boost as other city employees prompted a fervent Kansas City Council discussion Tuesday, with council members weighing the request against a tight city budget.
Forté wrote a blog post Monday entitled, “Police deserve same raises as employees of other city services,” pointing out that union employees are slated to get raises of 2.5 percent or more in each of the next three years. Those raises were negotiated between city management and bargaining units representing firefighters and other labor-class workers in the city.
But in the city’s five-year Citywide Business Plan, which the council must approve soon according to the city charter, police are expecting to receive raises averaging 2 percent each year for the next three years.
“The members of our department deserve equal pay treatment with the employees of other city services,” Forté wrote. “To continue to serve our city with the highest quality employees, I support KCPD members receiving annual salary increases on par with those in city services.”
City Council members noted, however, that city employees are different from police employees. While the city negotiates with its own unions, Kansas City police are considered to be state employees and are part of a department that answers to the Board of Police Commissioners, not the city.
The city’s only responsibility is to fund the Police Department as required by state law, and every year the city exceeds that responsibility, to the tune of more than $230 million this year out of the city’s total $1.5 billion budget.
Mayor Sly James said the police salary scale is structured differently from that of fire and other city employees, so comparing raises among the different groups is like comparing “apples to pomegranates.”
Meanwhile, in part because raises for city employees are growing faster than revenues, the budget office is projecting a general fund deficit of $12 million by the end of the fiscal year, April 30. That deficit may have to be addressed by drastic cuts, including possible layoffs, in non-public-safety departments.
“We can’t operate the city without taking into account the reality of our budgetary constraints,” James told his colleagues at a discussion about the five-year business plan.
But James and Councilman Scott Wagner, chairman of the finance committee, noted that the business plan is just a road map, is adjusted each year and does not carry the weight of law, so it doesn’t lock in raises of just 2 percent for police. The council may also tweak the business plan wording to address the pay raise concern before the plan is adopted, possibly this Thursday.
The Fraternal Order of Police has a pay package that expires next April, so it needs to negotiate a new agreement with the Board of Police Commissioners.
Councilwoman Teresa Loar urged that a meeting be set up soon with the police board to better explore how to address the police pay demands. She said the council strongly wants to send a message that it supports the city’s police officers and wants to treat them fairly with their pay.
Council members Heather Hall and Scott Taylor agreed with that message, although Hall, whose husband is a police officer, said she’s more concerned about the shortage of police officers than she is about police pay.
Councilwoman Alissia Canady, chairwoman of the council’s Neighborhoods and Public Safety Committee, said the council has to weigh the police demands against countless other city needs, and further increases to the police budget may take away from other important city services that are also important to public safety.
Forté said he was raising this issue at a time when police officers nationwide face intense public scrutiny, frayed community relations and more street violence, making it difficult for departments to recruit and retain high-quality officers.
“A financial plan that does not value police employees as much as employees of other city services has the potential to negatively impact police morale and employee retention,” he wrote.
He also said the department has done more than its share to hold trim expenses and find ways to eliminate waste. Earlier this year, the department eliminated 200 vacant officer and civilian positions to stay within its budget allocation. James said some in the public have assumed the department lost actual officers, when they really just lost vacant positions.
The city has just provided the funding to help with a police staffing study, but James said the consultant hasn’t even been hired yet and it may take more than a year for any potential savings or efficiencies to be realized.
A recent pay study done by the Olathe Police Department showed that the Kansas City police starting salary of $43,404 is the highest among 12 law enforcement agencies in the area. The department remains among the top four agencies for median officers’ pay at $57,018. However, Kansas City’s ranking drops to 10th in the area for officers who reach their maximum annual pay with $70,632.
In an email to The Star, Sgt. Brad Lemon, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99, said it’s essential that police have parity with other city employees.
“A recent report by the FBI ranks Kansas City as the 6th most violent city in the country. At a time when violent crime is soaring, from the Plaza to Westport to the Urban Core, we can’t afford to pay our members less than every other department in the city,” Lemon wrote.
“The KCPD actively seeks out the most qualified candidates to recruit which is why we are one of the top police departments in the country. We can not continue to recruit and retain the best officers around if we don’t pay them,” he added.