KC crime lab shortfall prompts impassioned plea from deputy chief

A dispute over how to pay for Kansas City’s new crime lab prompted a deputy chief to clock out of work Friday at a police board meeting so she could lambaste ideas that board members were considering to fill a funding gap.

The incident highlighted a rift between some police commanders and the police board regarding the size of the proposed crime lab. The project is overbudget, and city officials have told police board members they must reduce the square footage of the lab or find $6 million to $7 million on their own to save the original size.

Deputy Chief Patty Higgins had intended to air her concerns in her official capacity during the meeting, but board members tabled the crime lab discussion. Frustrated, Higgins signed her name on the public comments request form, told her staff that she was on compensatory time and took the microphone as a “citizen.”

She ripped a series of ideas that police board members were considering to tease $600,000 from the department’s operating budget every year for the next 12 years.

Her comments, later disputed by the outgoing police board president, startled the board. One member, Alvin Brooks, asked if Higgins was out of order, but Police Chief Darryl Forté supported her ability to “speak as a citizen.”

Board members said they were trying to find money outside personnel costs, but Higgins noted that more than 90 percent of the police budget is personnel, leaving less than 10 percent for other needs such as equipment, vehicles and utilities.

“This 8 to 9 percent is already $1.4 million underfunded,” Higgins said, adding that additional cuts would be draconian.

“If we stuck to that, we may not be able to pay for computers. We could only turn the lights on every other day,” she said. “It’s that bad.”

Other ideas included reviewing policies for sick leave and employee contributions for health insurance. But those are benefits that must be negotiated with the Fraternal Order of Police, Higgins said. Another idea was to look at the department’s seizure and forfeiture fund for money, something that Higgins said would be illegal.

Higgins said the department should concede to the smaller lab and contract with another lab to help reduce a backlog of evidence.

“I’m not against the lab,” she said. “I just don’t think we have the money.”

Lisa Pelofsky, who ended her term as board president Friday, said later that Higgins’ sentiments were “heartfelt, but some of her comments were inaccurate.”

“I’ve heard over and over that we can’t do this,” Pelofsky said. “But I’m one of those people who sees things as half full.”