The mayor and city council voted to defund Kansas City police by some $42 million last year before a judge stopped them. This Nov. 8, Missouri voters are being asked to make sure that never happens again.
And indeed, support for a state constitutional amendment locking in current levels of police funding in Kansas City is surging in advance of the November election. According to a Remington/MOScout Poll in September, 64% of voters – very nearly two-thirds – support the amendment. Only 20% do not, with 16% unsure.
Mayor Quinton Lucas and eight council members in May 2021 tried to claw back $42 million in already-approved Kansas City Police Department funds for use in unspecified social programs at the whim of the city manager. But a judge in October of last year overturned the ordinances in question, ruling city officials violated state law in their timing of the defunding attempt.
This past May, the Missouri General Assembly approved Senate Bill 678, sponsored by state Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, which will allow voters to approve Amendment 4. It would raise the minimum funding for the KCPD from 20% of city general fund revenues to 25%.
The 25% level would only lock in funding at about recent levels, but would forestall any further attempt by the city to reduce police funding.
“I support Amendment 4 to increase the minimum KCMO General Fund funding of the KCPD from 20% to 25%,” says Councilwoman Heather Hall, who opposed the defunding last year. “It will simply show that what the city already gives the PD stays at the 25% range. This will not reduce any funding to other city departments.”
“We’re finding that Amendment 4 will pass by a very wide margin,” Councilwoman Teresa Loar, who also opposed the defunding last year, says of the Remington/MOScout Poll. “People understand that we need police, and we need to pay our police officers. And after what happened last year with the attempt to defund the police, some of our state representatives – in particular Sen. Luetkemeyer – jumped in and wrote a bill to increase our 20% mandate to 25%.”
Loar said her Northland constituents are enthusiastically supportive of Amendment 4, but need to get out and vote in the Nov. 8 election.
“The people I talk to are very much in favor of raising the [minimum police funding] so this doesn’t happen again,” she told The Heartlander.
Even residents in minority-majority areas of Kansas City are likely for locking in police funding, Loar says – despite “fairly militant activists” in those areas fighting it bitterly.
“Where does all of our crime happen? Where is it committed? It’s in the very area that these [activists] don’t want police. And I don’t understand that,” Loar said. “The majority of the community understands that they need the police. And who are they gonna call when somebody shoots them or robs them? They’re going to call the police, not a drug dealer. So I mean, they’ve got to have law enforcement in there. So, my guess is those areas alone will vote for funding the police department.”
The continued push by some to defund police in Kansas City stands in stark contrast to other cities around the country that went down that road but changed directions to actually re-fund their police departments.
“I think the city is in the top five of violent cities and unsafe places to live, and I can’t imagine why our leaders would want to continue that. If I were in a higher leadership position, not only would I not be defunding the police, I would be giving them everything that they asked for,” Loar says.
Shannon Bjornlie agrees with Loar. The citizen advocate, part of a nearly 2,000-member grassroots group called KC Awareness, is promoting Amendment 4 in social media and through like-minded city council candidates.
“Basically, we’re just trying to get the word out so people understand what it’s all about and why it’s important. And then, of course, getting people to get out and vote,” Bjornlie told The Heartlander.
“With the murder rate – I mean, over the weekend five more murders in Kansas City – you would think that the mayor would be wanting to do something to help that. And he does nothing, except spend money fighting over the funding. I just don’t understand how the mayor of a city that has one of the highest murder rates in the country wants to fight police funding. I don’t get that concept.”
Two of the city’s murder victims last weekend were promising young pre-doctoral graduate students from South America studying at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City.
The mayor and eight council members who tried to claw back $42 million in approved police funds last year were loath to call it defunding.
“They can try to sugarcoat it and call it whatever they want, but at the end of the day that’s what they did,” Bjornlie said. “And in turn, not only does it pose a bigger risk to our police department, but also to the citizens of Kansas City.
“If I need the police – I live in the Northland – I don’t know if they’re coming. I don’t know if there’s someone to cover it, because the crime is definitely worse inner-city and [officers] may all be down there doing calls.
“I think most people, even people who lean left or whatever, most people want to be safe. Most people are supportive of the police.”
Loar and Bjornlie’s growing army of police supporters are fighting the headwinds of legacy media reports that somehow paint police funding as a bad thing.
“It’s difficult, because people only hear one side,” says Bjornlie. “However, I think people are getting wise, especially to The [Kansas City] Star, that they are one-sided. They tell it how they want it to be, not necessarily pros and cons of both sides. That’s a battle that I think we’re always going to fight, until the media get a clue that people don’t trust them anymore.
“How does more funding take away anything? How would staffing a full police department cause any harm?”
Amendment 4 is necessary because the city council might be successful in another attempt to defund police, Loar said. The judge last year noted that the council was simply tardy in doing so that time around.
“But it may not work that way next time,” Loar says. “So we want to make sure that our police department is funded.”