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Missouri voters approve Amendment 4 to increase Kansas City Police funding

A police officer a face shield and black vests faces the camera. Other police behind them, stand with their backs to the camera. They are wearing black helmets and black vests.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Police form a line along Mill Creek Parkway during the Black Lives Matter protests on Saturday, May 30, 2020.

Kansas City will be required to spend more of its budget on the Kansas City Police Department after Missouri voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4.

The constitutional amendment's passage means that Kansas City must increase its minimum funding to the Kansas City Police Department to 25% of the city's general fund — up from the current requirement of 20%.

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The Missouri legislature passed a law requiring the increase earlier this year, but because of the Missouri constitution, the bill could not go into effect without a statewide vote.

Republican state Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, who won his re-election bid and whose district includes Kansas City’s northern suburbs and Parkville, introduced the measure.

An issue of who controls KCPD

The KCPD is governed by the state of Missouri through the Board of Police Commissioners — unlike any other police department in Missouri, or in other major U.S. cities, where departments are locally controlled.

The Missouri governor appoints four people to the board, and the fifth seat is held by the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri. Because of that structure, state lawmakers can dictate how much money is allocated annually to the KCPD.

Since the mid-1950s, state law has required Kansas City, Missouri, to allocate 20% of its general revenue to the KCPD every year. The Kansas City Council has final approval on the department’s annual budget, and often funds the department over that threshold.

The Missouri constitution states that the legislature cannot mandate a city to increase “an activity or service” beyond what is mandated by existing law, unless the state appropriates money to pay the city for the increased costs.

The language of Amendment 4 did not mention Kansas City or the KCPD explicitly. Instead, the amendment asked voters if the Missouri constitution should be amended to authorize laws “that increase minimum funding for a police force established by a state board of police commissioners to ensure such police force has additional resources to serve its communities.”

While the amendment passed statewide, voters in Kansas City overwhelmingly rejected the amendment. Opponents of Amendment 4 said that's an indication that residents are beginning to reject state oversight over local policing issues.

Mayor Quinton Lucas tweeted that the vote "stripped the rights of Kansas Citians" and criticized the amendment's "unclear and false ballot language."

"There will be much more on this issue," Lucas said. "In the meantime, I do hope proponents of the Amendment pressure the state board to spend any increase on actual officer salaries and benefits, something the board and the legislature seem reluctant to do. Hell of a way to back the blue."

Anthony Newsome is an organizer with Decarcerate KC, one of the groups that has been organizing against Amendment 4. Newsome said people who live in Kansas City now have a better understanding of how city money should be spent.

“Even if we are going to have those kinds of conversations, it needs to be held locally. There needs to be more input with the people that actually live here,” Newsome said.

Decarcerate KC's Dylan Pyles said the group knew getting all of Missouri to reject Amendment 4 would be an uphill battle. But, he said seeing Kansas Citians reject the amendment shows how they feel about state control over the KCPD.

“I think what it means is that we actually have the numbers to start organizing for local control and more opportunities for, community voices to be heard on issues of public safety in Kansas City going forward,” Pyles said. “Whereas before this amendment, we maybe actually didn't know that.”

Backlash over move to reallocate police budget

Luetkemeyer said this increase is necessary to meet the KCPD’s current needs.

“At this critical moment, we need to make sure that we're defending our police, not defunding them,” Luetkemeyer said in June. “This bill ensures the brave men and women of this department have the resources they need to protect our city.”

Luetkemeyer has specifically pointed to efforts last spring by Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and several councilmembers to allocate about $42 million of the KCPD’s budget to a fund for community services and prevention. The Board of Police Commissioners took the city to court, where Jackson County Circuit Judge Patrick Campbell struck down the funding reallocation.

The judge ruled that Missouri gives the Board of Police Commissioners exclusive management and control of the KCPD.

But those who opposed the amendment — including Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas — have criticized efforts from Republican state lawmakers to control how a municipality allocates its money. Opponents say that only local officials should have a say in the funding of its police department.

“This is a backwards colonial system that undermines the voices of Kansas Citians, particularly minority voices, because there aren't many cities where a lot of minorities get elected,” Lucas told KCUR’s Up to Date in April. “And I think that this is a sign, again, of how the state tries to subjugate the people of Kansas City.”

Lucas has sued to stop the funding law, calling it unconstitutional.

For the 2022-2023 fiscal year, City Council allocated $269 million to the KCPD, which is over the state-required 20% threshold by about $33 million. The KCPD’s budget takes up the largest chunk of the city’s general fund, using up about 43%.

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives.

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