Editorials

Why is Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith asking for millions more in his budget?

Kansas City, Mo. police chief Rick Smith has asked for additional money for 9-1-1 dispatchers, officers on the street, and raises for current personnel. He must prove he has done everything possible to find that money in his existing budget, before asking for more.
Kansas City, Mo. police chief Rick Smith has asked for additional money for 9-1-1 dispatchers, officers on the street, and raises for current personnel. He must prove he has done everything possible to find that money in his existing budget, before asking for more. File photo

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith has asked for an additional $9.3 million from the city’s general fund next year and a total budget of $251.9 million.

But that isn’t all he wants. Smith is requesting additional money to hire more 911 dispatchers and patrol officers.

“We are unable to provide the kind of service taxpayers expect,” Smith wrote on his blog. “I believe these additional positions would be a very wise investment.”

Smith’s requests deserve serious scrutiny — and skepticism — from the Board of Police Commissioners and the City Council.

A good first step: Review a $140,000 efficiency study, released this summer, with explicit recommendations for getting more police officers where they’re needed. To date, that study has largely gathered dust.

The chief’s basic budget request adds a net salary increase of $7.5 million to provide pay raises for current police officers. That’s a 6 percent bump above the current budget. In a city perennially strapped for cash, that appears excessive.

The chief pointedly says the increases are needed to achieve “parity” with other public safety agencies, a code word for equalizing salaries with Kansas City firefighters.

Smith’s proposal also includes “decision packages” for additional spending, including nearly $1.1 million for 21 dispatchers to handle calls more quickly. Yet the study by Matrix Consulting Group, released earlier this year, actually called for adding just eight “call takers” to the 911 center.

The same Matrix study proposed turning over management of the 911 call service to civilian management. “Full civilianization of dispatch is a best practice,” the study says. There is no indication that the department plans to take this advice.

The chief also wants to hire 30 additional patrol officers. That would cost $720,000 and would be added to the budget in the middle of the year.

Almost all Kansas Citians see the need for additional police on the streets. We see it, too. The city’s murder rate is unacceptably high, and police response times can be longer than residents want.

Again, through, the Matrix Consulting study suggests an approach that wouldn’t necessarily require additional funds. The department currently employs one patrol sergeant for every 4.6 patrol officers; the optimum, the study says, is a 1-6 ratio.

The consultants say the police department could eliminate 28 sergeant positions, freeing up plenty of existing cash to pay for the 30 additional officers on the street.

In all, the Matrix study suggests cutting 30 sworn-officer positions, while adding 88 civilian jobs, to better protect the public.

That recommendation dovetails nicely with a different report issued this year, which said the city and police department might save millions if they ended duplicative back-office duties.

Yes, recommendations like these may not always reflect real-world challenges. Crime prevention can’t be reduced to boxes on a flow chart.

At the same time, we know the chief’s budget is often a starting point for discussions, not a final recommendation.

The chief owes it to taxpayers to demonstrate he’s done everything possible to spend their money efficiently. Then — and only then — should he ask for more.

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