Kansas City battles Missouri over police funding

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Leaders in the largely Democratic city of Kansas City, Mo., don’t control the city’s police department, hire the police chief or determine how the department spends the money. of your taxes. A 1930s law gives that power to a five-member board appointed largely by the governor of Missouri, who since 2017 is a Republican.

A long-running dispute over that arrangement is flaring up this summer. The two sides are preparing for a statewide vote in November on a constitutional amendment that would give the Republican-majority Legislature even more authority to set police funding.

A key legislative supporter says the Kansas City police need the support because some Democrats want to defund the force, a charge city leaders vehemently deny.

A local civil rights leader sued on behalf of the city’s taxpayers, arguing that allowing the state to control the city’s police force amounts to “taxation without representation” and discriminates against Kansas City’s large black population, who suffer much of their violent crimes.

Mayor Quinton Lucas, who is the only person in the Board of Police Commissioners not appointed by the governorhas indicated that the proposal will be challenged in court.

The debate echoes recent clashes between Republican state officials and Democratic leaders of larger cities elsewhere over issues including voting rights, mask mandates and recognition of the June 16 holiday. And it comes as the nation continues to fight racial injustice in surveillance.

Last year, Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas Y Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia he signed restrictive electoral laws that opponents said targeted Democratic strongholds. And school boards in heavily Democratic areas defied governors in Florida, Texas and Arizona seeking ban mask mandates during the height of the pandemic.

Kansas City, with a population of about 508,000, about 28% black, is the only city in Missouri without local control of its police force. It is believed to be the largest city in the United States in such a situation, the mayor’s office said.

After protests over racial injustice in 2020 prompted calls for greater police accountability, Lucas and some members of the City Council approved two ordinances that would have given city officials some control over how $42.5 million of the police department’s $239 million budget for fiscal year 2021-2022 would be spent. The money would have been used to emphasize social service and crime prevention programs.

Critics, including the police union and the former police chief, said the proposal was a roundabout way to defunding the department and leave him without enough money to get through the year.

Shortly after the ordinances were passed, the state-appointed police board sued the city to undo them and won. The judge said state law gives the board exclusive authority over the police budget.

The fight led lawmakers to pass a bill that requires the city to increase police funding from 20% of its general revenue budget to 25%. Republican Governor Mike Parson signed the bill into law on June 27.

But there was concern that the measure would conflict with a state constitutional ban on unfunded state mandates for cities. So lawmakers introduced an amendment to address that on the November general election ballot.

Lucas tweeted that “the bill represents the pure exercise of power by state legislators over the people of Kansas City” and would be challenged in court. He and other officials have noted that the city already routinely funds the police department in excess of the 20% requirement.

State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, a Republican who represents counties in suburban Kansas City, said he sponsored the legislation to support law enforcement during a time of “radical attempts across the country by city councils to disburse the police”.

Melissa Robinson, a Democratic member of the Kansas City Council, said the current agreement deprives Kansas City taxpayers of their rights by allowing outsiders to decide how their tax dollars are spent.

She said supporters are strategizing to persuade out-of-town residents that the November ballot issue centers on local control, a principle often praised by Republicans.

“This is not about divisive conversations about blue lives and black lives,” he said. “It’s the basic question of how government should work… We never said we wanted to cut funding, we just wanted to set aside some money and ask questions about better ways to tackle crime.”

Luetkemeyer said all Missourians should be concerned about how the Kansas City police department operates because the city is one of the state’s major economic engines.

“If Kansas City sees a dramatic increase in crime because the police are underfunded, that will have a ripple effect throughout the economy of the state of Missouri,” he said.

According to police department crime statistics, reports of the most serious crimes, such as homicides, sexual assaults, robberies, fraud, and weapons violations, decreased by 6% between 2020 and 2021.

Homicides in the city have fluctuated between 151 in 2017 and 157 in 2021, with a high of 179 in 2020. Statistics show that 78% of homicide victims in the city in 2021 were black men and women.

Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City and a civil rights leader who sued over the funding issue, said the current agreement is riddled with racism.

During the Civil War, Missouri was sharply divided between Union and Confederate supporters, with much of the Union support focused on St. Louis and Kansas City, which had larger black populations than other parts of the state.

In 1861, Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson, who supported the Confederacy, persuaded the Legislature to pass a law giving the state control of the police department in St. Louis. Missouri voters in 2013 approved a constitutional amendment returning that department to local control.

The state took over the new Kansas City Police Department in 1874. That changed in 1932, when the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the appointed board’s control of the agency was unconstitutional.

But the state regained control in 1939 at the behest of another segregationist governor, Lloyd Crow Stark, in part due to corruption under influential political organizer Tom Pendergast. In 1943, a new law limited the amount a city could be required to allocate to a police board to 20% of its general revenue in any fiscal year.

Grant said he did not expect supporters of state control to recognize the racist elements of the situation.

“You can’t get around that,” he said. “That is the big elephant in the room… We are the only city our size in the country that is not in control of its police department. If state control is so great, why are we the only people with it?

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Ballentine reported from Jefferson City, Missouri.

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