Kansas City police defunding could cost 480 patrol officers

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt tells court that Kansas City’s reallocation of $42.3 million from its police budget is illegal.

Updated: July 9, 2021 - 11:09pm

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Kansas City’s reallocation of $42.3 million from its police budget is an illegal attempt to “defund the police” and could cost the city as many as 480 patrol officer positions, according to Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

In a 19-page amicus brief filed Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court in support of a lawsuit filed against Kansas City and Mayor Quinton Lucas, Schmitt maintains reducing the police budget to the minimum 20% of general revenue endangers city residents, deprives at-risk communities of policing and violates state law.

“Kansas City’s shortsighted move to defund their police force will have lasting, destructive, and deadly consequences for its residents,” Schmitt said. “Last year, 176 people were murdered in Kansas City, marking the deadliest year in the city’s history.

“Despite this grim milestone,” he continued, “the city council and mayor’s decision defunds critical patrol divisions in areas that saw roughly 80 percent of Kansas City’s murders last year, and will potentially eliminate approximately 480 sworn officer positions.”

On May 20, the Kansas City City Council approved Lucas’s proposal to allocate 20% of the city’s general fund – more than $150 million – to the city’s police department but earmark anything above that for other expenditures. The Missouri Constitution requires municipalities dedicate at least one-fifth of revenues to policing.

Under the plan, anything over the state-mandated 20% general fund minimum allocation for law enforcement will go to a new Community Services & Prevention Fund that the city and a police board will determine how to spend.

The adoption of the measures removed $42.3 million directly out of the police budget but committed $45.3 million – an overall increase of $3 million – for the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD) to use for crime prevention, community engagement and outreach.

Within days, the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners filed a lawsuit against Lucas, City Manager Brian Platt, Director of Finance Tammy Queen and the nine city council members who approved the proposals on May 20.

According to the lawsuit, the reallocation of funds above the 20% minimum to uses other than law enforcement would cause “irreparable harm” to the board’s management of the budget and necessitate cuts in staffing, purchasing and operations.

On May 28, Missouri filed a 16-page petition seeking an injunction against the budget being enacted. The city filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit with Lucas calling its allegations “legally and factually false.”

Jackson County Judge Kevin Harrell on June 1 stayed the suit but did not grant the injunction. He has not said when the case will be heard.

Schmitt argues in his brief that limiting a police budget to the minimum constitutionally required 20% interferes with police department operations and makes police budgets vulnerable to transfers to the city’s general revenue fund.

“Attempts to defund the police will deprive Kansas City residents of a needed police presence and exacerbate homicide and violent crime rates plaguing Kansas City and major cities across Missouri and the country,” he said.