Republican lawmakers call for special session over Kansas City police budget

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas meets with Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in October 2019 (photo courtesy of Missouri Governor's Office).

Four Republican lawmakers from the Kansas City area are asking Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session in response to the City Council vote to give the city more control over its police budget.

The council, led by Mayor Quinton Lucas, voted to reduce the police department’s $240 million budget by $42 million. That would mean the city would be spending 20% of its general revenue on policing, the minimum percentage required by state law.

The $40 million would be placed in a separate fund, and the city would then negotiate with the state-appointed Board of Police Commissioners about how it should be spent. The goal, according to its supporters, would be to increase police accountability and improve the department’s relationship with the community.

Lucas and civil rights leaders argued that the move would allow the city — which is one of the few in the nation that doesn’t have local control of its own police department — a say over how its citizens are policed.

But Republican lawmakers in Jefferson City reacted with anger, saying the move will make a city already struggling with violent crime less safe.

On Wednesday, four Republican lawmakers — Reps. Chris Brown of Kansas City, Josh Hurlbert of Smithville, Sean Pouche of Kansas City and Doug Richey of Excelsior Springs — asked the governor for a special session because, “Kansas City is in crisis.”

“As a state, we must move to protect our citizens in the state’s largest city and restore the statutory intent of the General Assembly,” the letter says. “In light of the rapidly developing situation, we ask that you call a special session of the legislature to address this dangerous action.”

The lawmakers don’t lay out any specific proposals that should be debated in a special session, though other Republicans have previously floated the idea of increasing the minimum percentage cities must budget for policing. 

Lawmakers approved a bill during the recently adjourned legislative session that punishes cities that decrease law enforcement budgets by more than 12 percent relative to budgets for other departments over a five year aggregate amount.

Parson has expressed his disapproval of the city’s actions, saying during an interview with a conservative radio host on Tuesday that the move undermines any argument that Kansas City should have control of its police department.

“Now is not the time to try any attempts to defund police departments,” Parson said, later adding about any potential special session: “There’s a lot of people who’ve reached out for special sessions, and it’s too early to talk about those things like that.” 

Lucas responded to the call for a special session by welcoming “my Republican friends’ newfound interest in the plight of Kansas Citians, particularly in our inner-city neighborhoods.

“Respectfully, our community, my community, has been in a violent crime crisis for my entire lifetime,” he said. “With more than 100 murders per year in Kansas City for generations, we have to work non-stop and creatively to fix our serious gun violence problem, not continue to look the other way as our state legislature majority has done for too long.” 

The city council’s plan “increases funding to the police department while we also as a city and with separate investments are addressing the root causes of crime, like poverty, lack of adequate mental health, and housing instability.”

He invited the lawmakers to “join me and neighborhood leaders on a walking tour of our neighborhoods most consistently impacted by violent crime. We all have to work together on solutions to this problem and we all know funding in one area alone will not solve all our problems.”