For eight years Kansas City was served by a mayor who didn’t seem to understand his role in overseeing the Kansas City Police Department. But as has been argued in this space previously, the mayor not only serves on the Board of Police Commissioners, he controls the police department’s budget. In fact, the Kansas City mayor wields veto power over the police budget—perhaps the greatest power any political leader could have over a department.
City leaders’ influence over policing was confirmed when I spoke to a number of former members of the police board last year. And it was confirmed again when Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith was interviewed this week by KCMO Radio’s Pete Mundo. Smith said (starts at 3:44):
We’re still funded by the city. So we still talk with the city manager and go through the budget process just as every other department head in the city does. We go through this process and talk about, “hey, where can we make gains, where can we not?” The last two years we’ve had additional officers, it’s been a handful. Sometimes it’s 25; I think last year a dozen. We’re getting some, it’s just slow.
There are plenty of discussions to be had about what ought to be done to help the Kansas City police better respond to rising crime rates, and not all of it can be done through policing. But we know that policing matters and specifically that increasing the number of police reduces homicides. The fact that the number of police in Kansas City has fallen during a years-long spike in homicides is unconscionable. Whatever policies are adopted to combat this increase, it is good to know that those charged with making the decisions understand how policy is made.