On November 8, voters across Missouri approved Amendment 4, a measure to increase annual police funding for Kansas City. It passed with 63 percent of the vote. Uniquely among Missouri cities and towns, the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD) is controlled not by local officials but by a state-appointed board. As legal battles continue, the city’s other spending priorities could be threatened.
The Board of Police Commissioners that controls the KCPD has five members. Four are appointed by the governor; the fifth is Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas (D). This arrangement, introduced in 1939 as a response to corruption, means an unelected body 150 miles away gets a final say in the city’s policing.
Amendment 4 was the result of power moves by Republicans in the legislature and Governor Parsons (R). A Senate bill that the governor signed in June, to increase KCPD funding, was put to state voters as a direct response to a resolution approved by Kansas City lawmakers to reallocate modest funds away from the police budget.
In September 2021, Gwen Grant, CEO of the nonprofit Urban League of Greater Kansas City, had sued the police board—arguing that it had a “discriminatory purpose” of denying Black Kansas City residents control of their police department, and that its role amounted to “taxation without representation.” More recently, Mayor Lucas sued over Amendment 4, calling it unconstitutional under state law. On November 17, the four governor-appointed police commissioners filed a counterclaim to Grant’s lawsuit, arguing that the city is manipulating its budget to deprive the police of more money, and blaming Lucas and the city director of finance.
“Our budget [for areas other than police] will have to be slashed to the tune of millions of dollars.”
The consequences of Amendment 4’s passage are likely to be severe.
“This means the things [Kansas City] wanted to spend our money on through agreed-upon decisions by our elected officials can get pulled out from under us,” Lora McDonald, executive director of the local Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity (More2), told Filter. “Our budget [for areas other than police] will have to be slashed to the tune of millions of dollars.” In a worst-case scenario, McDonald warned, forcing the city to comply with the board’s funding demand could bankrupt it.
Besides the financial problems, the core issue is a police department which, as Grant has separately alleged, routinely brutalizes Black and Brown residents and discriminates in its hiring.
“On some level I believe this sends a strong message to rogue police officers that they can do whatever they want because no one is watching who actually cares,” McDonald said. “We don’t have any say as a community.”
For decades, Kansas City has been required to allocate at least 20 percent of its tax revenue to the KCPD. The city council has often chosen to allocate more than that to the police. But in May 2021, reform activists secured an agreement from Mayor Lucas and city council to reallocate $42 million from the police budget towards “community services and prevention.” The police budget would still have hit the 20 percent required by law.
Despite that, a judge then blocked the mayor’s plan. And State Senator Tony Luetkemeyer (R), who doesn’t live in or represent Kansas City, responded by filing Senate Bill 678 in January, to make sure the city wouldn’t try again. It amended state law to require the city to increase police funding from 20 percent to 25 percent of its total budget. The bill passed both chambers with overwhelming Republican support, before being signed by Gov. Parsons.
Before it could take effect, the Republican police budget increase had to be put on the ballot for voters to decide statewide. Deceptively, the ballot question did not mention Kansas City—it simply asked voters if a state-appointed board should be allowed to increase minimum funding for “a police force” to ensure it can “serve its communities”.
The measure won 1.2 million votes, and was approved in almost every county except the independent city of St. Louis, and most of Kansas City itself. In St. Louis and Kansas City, about 52 percent and 62 percent of voters, respectively, rejected Amendment 4.
Kansas City reform advocates will have to focus on what power they can build locally.
As for what happens next, we might not get an immediate answer. Unless a judge blocks Amendment 4 even temporarily, it will take effect in the city’s next fiscal year budget starting May 2023. The lawsuits could drag on for months or years before they’re resolved. But it’s unlikely that the state government—fully under Republican control—will back down. So Kansas City reform advocates will have to focus on what power they can build locally.
“We’re trying to create a bloc of voters that supports local control of the police department,” McDonald said. She explained that many voters in Kansas City—even those who voted on Amendment 4—are not fully informed about this whole situation, so she wants to focus on outreach and education.
Next year, Kansas City will hold elections for its mayor and council. McDonald wants to make this a a key issue for all candidates—and to get all local officials on board with taking back control of their own police. Eventually, she believes Kansas City voters can impact statewide races if they are united on this issue.
“If you were running for a statewide seat in Missouri and there’s a bloc of voters saying we need local control, if it’s a large enough bloc they can influence that decision,” she said.