Concerns mount as Kansas City police eliminate vacant positions

Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté said the Police Department will be eliminating vacant positions, but it will not be cutting officers.
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté said the Police Department will be eliminating vacant positions, but it will not be cutting officers.

Manny Abarca said he is dreading the start of summer.

As a resident of the city’s Northeast area, Abarca says summer brings with it an increase in crime, vandalism and other problems.

It may have already started.

On Sunday, police found the body of a man who had been shot to death lying near a sidewalk in the 300 block of North Drury Avenue. That’s about a block from where Abarca lives.

Abarca’s concerns increased after he learned that Police Chief Darryl Forté said the department is eliminating dozens of vacant officer positions. That number includes 17 vacancies in the East Patrol Division, which covers Abarca’s neighborhood.

“We are going to be hearing gunshots every night, we are going to hear so-and-so got killed,” Abarca, who also is vice president of the Indian Mound Neighborhood Association, said Monday. “These are the things we are most affected by as a neighborhood, as young residents.”

But Forté said the department is eliminating positions, not officers. Positions that are being cut already were vacant or are expected to be vacated through attrition.

To balance the budget, the department has decreased its 1,457 sworn law enforcement positions by about 8 percent. As a result, it will not fill about 123 vacant officer positions.

“Those are positions that have been vacant for a number of years, and we are just taking them off the books,” Forté said. “We are not going to carry them so we can say that we are short when we have never been at that level before.”

The reductions are about the equivalent of the staffing of a whole suburban patrol division. They would be shared throughout the department to minimize the impact on neighborhoods, Forté said a blog post on Monday.

Other police units affected include 24 positions in the investigative bureau, four positions in the traffic unit and two from the special operations unit, which consists of the tactical response, K-9, mounted patrol, helicopter and the bomb and arson units.

The department’s patrol division will see the largest number of reductions with 85 positions.

Eliminating some positions may cause response time for 911 calls to increase. However, Forté said the department will conduct a staffing study to help improve efficiencies.

Forté said the department is looking to hire back retired officers and have reserve officers work full-time. The Kansas City No Violence Alliance is sending out officers to arrest those with warrants.

Mentoring efforts such as the OK Program are expected to pay dividends in reducing crime, he said.

“While I am concerned about the safety of our officers, I have to look at everything in its totality. We are not the only department that is funded by the city that needs more resources,” Forté said.

A year ago, Northeast residents witnessed a spike in crime, including several homicides. Neighborhood leaders urged city leaders to add lighting at Budd Park and make other safety improvements.

However, Abarca said reducing the number of officers wasn’t the promise city leaders made when they asked voters to approve the earnings tax earlier this year.

“They talked about how we are not going to lose any police officers, and when we pass it then all of a sudden we are down 88 commissioned officers,” he said. “We need these positions so that we are safe as a community.”

Glenn E. Rice: 816-234-4341, @GRicekcstar