KCPD struggles to retain, recruit officers in wake of increased crime, budget cuts

“To catch up at this point, we’d need some very large recruiting classes of 50 to 60 recruits every few months for the next few years, at least.”

Tyler Schneider

 In a tumultuous start to the decade, the KCPD has found itself struggling to retain and recruit officers — a development that Chief Richard Smith attributes in large part due to budget constraints handed down from officials in city hall. 

The total appropriated budget has indeed fallen by a total of $9,603,918, from $266,377,193 in 2020 to $256,773,275 in 2021 (effective May 1). These cuts come off the heels of a year where Kansas City saw a record number of homicide cases (176 according to the department’s data for 2020). 

Of this decreased 2021 allotment, 86.9 percent, or $7,407,339, will come out of personnel costs — a fiscal category which includes personal services plus benefits such as worker’s compensation and life insurance. 

“At this funding level, the Department will not be able to hold academy classes or provide pay increases,” Deputy Chief Karen True wrote in a letter addressed to city hall, dated April 1, 2021. 

These concerns were echoed in an Aug. 16 forum hosted by the Waldo Tower Neighborhood Association and partners where Smith declared that he would like to see Kansas City come off of the top-ten most violent cities list. That goal has been compromised, said the fourth-year chief, by unexpected leave rates paired with a difficulty to recruit and properly train officers to fill these vacant positions. 

“This is not a KC issue, it is widespread. It concerns me at night when I have to ask if we have the staff to cover [a call]. When you have the amount of violence we have in this city, officers are seeing trauma every night. It is hard to keep that pace day in and night in and out. Workload helps distribute that,” Smith said. 

The latest set of reinforcements will number 30, with ten of those being white males, but this figure is well below the rate at which the department could comfortably replace what has amounted to a total of around 200 departing officers, according to South Patrol Division Commander, Major Darren Ivey

“We’re putting 30 through, but we’re going to lose another 30 to 40 in that time period,” Ivey said in an Aug. 26 public meeting at South Patrol headquarters. “To catch up at this point, we’d need some very large recruiting classes of 50 to 60 recruits every few months for the next few years, at least.”

This week, Ivey just received a resignation letter from a two-year officer he had hoped to retain. 

“They’re not finding the job as rewarding as they used to. We’re seeing younger officers just getting up and leaving the business, going to work at Cerner and getting out of law enforcement. Once, if you were here for five years, you were probably going to be here for a long time. That’s just not the case anymore,” Ivey said.

The city as a whole had reported 78 homicides so far this year as of the June report (delayed by two-months because the state needs to approve the numbers) compared to 96 at that same point last year — a decrease of 19 percent. The South Patrol Division has more or less followed this trajectory thus far.

“We are better than we were at this time last year with 12 homicides this year to 16 last year. We’re kind of bucking the national trend on that,” Ivey said before adding that any homicide is “one too many”. 

As a whole, however, Ivey said that it was “obvious that crime has gone up in South Patrol. We’ve had a huge increase in groups out here that have been extremely violent. If the financial dynamics change a little bit, that’s one thing we would be looking at.”

However, until Smith and his department see increases, the chief maintains a firm line on why he is unable to staff every patrol division to the ideal number of staff members.

“Our staffing is based on work zone studies from many years ago and is pretty much set until something [in city hall] changes. The only effective way to make sure we prevent service blackouts would be to shift people from zone to zone. We are doing the best we can to keep staffing equal. Some of that is based on data, cars available, and the nature of the crimes,” Smith said. 

The South Patrol Division statistics from the June 2021 report to the Board of Police Commissioners include a few significant increases in areas such as forcible sex offenses (31 in 2021 to 26 in 2020) and motor vehicle theft (up 16 percent). Following a year of quarantine, there have been five recorded cases of kidnapping/abduction in the Southland as well as five prostitution offenses. These figures all mirror the city at-large, which has seen a five percent increase in motor theft, a ten percent increase in stolen property offenses, 26 abducted or kidnapped individuals to 12 at this point last year, and 47 prostitution cases in 2021 versus 28 in 2020. 

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