Kansas City crime rises as police enforcement drops to record-low levels

The reduction in enforcement is a national trend that some police experts attribute to the “Ferguson effect.”

(The Center Square) - In the city of Kansas City, violent crime is rising while police enforcement has dropped to record-low levels.

The city classifies the worst crimes such as murder, kidnapping, rape and assault as Group A offenses. In 2019, the year before the pandemic, the city reported 43,752 Group A offenses. That increased to 50,163 Group A offenses in 2022, a 15% increase.

Homicides reached 182 in 2023, the most since city records are kept online back to 2010. The city had 82 homicides in 2014, the low over the past 14 years.

The city reports its police enforcement in its annual audited financial reports. Physical arrests dropped from 320,223 in 2010 to 142,131 in 2020. The city stopped reporting physical arrests in its annual audited report after 2020. General arrested dropped from 37,171 in 2010 to 9,662 in 2023.

The FBI also collects arrest data from the cities. It reported that the Kansas City police had 13,555 arrests in 2010 and it dropped to 9,669 in 2022, a 29% reduction.

Traffic violations, which includes parking violations, have plummeted also, falling from 283,052 in 2010 to 56,744 in 2023, according to city data.

The reduction in enforcement is a national trend that some police experts attribute to the “Ferguson effect.” That is a theory that police activity has been reduced due to negative publicity over highly-publicized incidents involving the police.

Cities such as Denver and Berkeley, California have tried to reduce interactions with police by having civilian responders deal with low-level incidents.

The Kansas City police department pointed to historic staffing shortages in its own ranks for one reason that enforcement activities have dropped.

Sworn staffing in the department was 1,371 in 2015. That had dropped to 1,142 in 2022. And the people who do the bulk of the enforcement - detectives and police officers - had dropped significantly. There were 253 detectives and 729 police officers in 2015. That dropped to 589 officers and 201 detectives in 2022, a 20% drop over that seven-year period.

“A contributing factor that could be significant in the downward trend can be attributed to staffing shortages,” Police Sgt. Phil DiMartino said in an email to The Center Square. “Our department, when fully staffed should have approximately 1,400 officers. Currently we sit around 1,100. This shortage effects proactive activity in all aspects of the department to include car stops and arrests.”

DiMartino cited the traffic enforcement unit as an example of staffing shortages.

“The unit dedicated to patrolling the streets for speed violators, and the majority of the contributors to the number of vehicle stops year in and year out, is currently 40% down from what would be fully staffed,” DiMartino said. “Additionally in recent years, the traffic enforcement officers have been tasked with helping patrol officers with accident reports. That leads to the primary members who would otherwise be conducting speed enforcement to be otherwise occupied.”

In March, the police department launched a crime plan to address the rise in crime.

“Kansas City is facing challenges with rising violent crime,” Police Chief Stacey Graves said in a media release. “For those who say we need to hold offenders more accountable for their violent acts and for those who say we need more options that address the root causes of crime, you are correct on both accounts. While we can’t arrest our way out of the next generation of violent crime, we also can’t solely rely on well-intended programs to ensure safety from violent individuals in our city.”

The police department expenses have fallen when adjusting for inflation. The city spent $232.1 million on police in 2019 ($281.3 million in 2023 dollars) and $232.8 million on the department in 2023.