Guest Commentary

Kansas City Police Department budget increase would keep the public safe

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith’s request for a higher budget next year should be approved, writes Board of Police Commissioners President Leland Shurin.
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith’s request for a higher budget next year should be approved, writes Board of Police Commissioners President Leland Shurin. File photo

The Kansas City Star asked in an editorial earlier this week why Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith has asked for an additional $9.3 million from the city’s general fund next year. The police department’s request for additional staff in the budget is a direct response to community concerns about rising violent crime, increased response times and being put on hold when calling 911.

The Board of Police Commissioners carefully scrutinized the department’s requested budget before unanimously voting to adopt it and submit it to the city manager’s office. To keep a balanced budget, we cut 110 officer positions and 99 non-sworn positions last year.

Ten years ago we had 1,423 sworn officers. Right now we have exactly 1,300. We also had 695 non-sworn staff members in 2007. Today it’s 514. The police department is operating leaner than it has in years, and Smith and his staff continually evaluate where to move staff to maximize efficiency.

The Board of Police Commissioners and chief of police realize they have a responsibility to city government and the people of Kansas City to spend tax dollars wisely. This request for additional staff reflects that. Taxpayers deserve timely and effective police service, and in too many instances, the police department has fallen short of community expectations because of understaffing.

Department staff carefully considered recommendations of the Matrix Staffing Study when making these requests. In fact, we discuss different parts of the study and how its recommendations are being implemented at every police board meeting. For instance, the study states 30 new patrol officers need to be put on the streets immediately. It suggests there are too many patrol sergeants, and that we could somehow create more officer positions by moving the supervisors. First, we cannot demote a sergeant to an officer without cause. Second, the reason Matrix judged the span of control of each sergeant to be too small is because we should have more officers. These sergeants are the first-line supervisors who ensure accountability, professionalism and quality service. These factors are the most important community expectations of the police department.

Commanders and staff also carefully reviewed the Matrix study’s recommendations for additional staffing in our 911 Communications Center. It recommended only eight additional positions. That is at odds with the recommendations of APCO, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials. APCO’s staffing formula (which was developed in conjunction with the University of Denver Research Institute) takes into account city population, call load and staffing numbers, among other factors. Based on that, we should have 150 dispatchers. The 21 additional dispatcher positions requested in this budget would bring us only to 113.

We cannot overlook the fact that as police department staffing has decreased, violent crime has increased. There are, of course, a number of factors that affect violent crime, and it is on the rise nationally, according to FBI statistics. Kansas City has seen an alarming spike in homicides and aggravated assaults the last few years, however, which correlates with when intensive staffing reductions were taking place at the police department.

This year’s requested budget increase is less than what police the department requested last year. As in years’ past, it asks for pay parity with other public safety employees in our city. It also seeks to recoup some of the staffing losses the department has experienced the last three years to stay within our allocated budget. The other police commissioners, Chief Smith and I strongly believe this reduced staff has negatively impacted public safety in Kansas City. The request is reasonable, it’s expected and it merits approval.

Leland Shurin is president of the Board of Police Commissioners of Kansas City.