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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Budget negotiations for the Kansas City Police Department moved ahead with Chief Rick Smith at the helm of the department, a contentious point swept away as the Kansas City Council engaged with the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners Thursday.

Making sure the police department is fully staffed in next year’s budget is a priority for many city council members meeting with the commissioners

These negotiations over how a portion of the police budget will be used are a first for both bodies. They are the result of a city ordinance, challenged and upheld in court.

In action, the meeting was less of a negotiation and more of a general discussion. Also – for something often described by critics as “defunding the police” – the majority of conversation focused on hiring more officers and raising salaries.

Commissioners told council members that Kansas City has the lowest starting pay in the region at $43,404. That compares to a high of $50,000 or more in places like Lawrence, Kan., Kansas City, Kan., and Riverside, Mo.

“I am all for increasing the police budget in the appropriate ways to get more officers on the street, because at the end of the day the very most basic things our citizens pay for with their tax dollars are to be safe, and to have clean streets, have their trash picked up and have their snow removed,” said Heather Hall, a Northland council member.

“If we don’t have a safe place, it doesn’t matter if we don’t remove their snow because they are not living here anymore.”

Council members also are concerned about suburban police agencies offering signing bonuses of $10,000 or more, in addition to higher starting pay.

Chief Smith told council that 94% of the proposed budget is devoted to personnel costs.

“This budget is to fund 1412 officers. That’s what we’re looking at,” he said during his opening comments.

The goal employment number, described by Smith, seems unlikely to be met in the next budget year. The department is currently down about 180 officers on their goal.

Mayor Quinton Lucas said that past accounting practices allowed the department to fund other items at the expense of police salaries.

“Those are separate requests that need to be a separate part of it. And what we should not do is use our people – our officers and our civilians – as leverage to get every other thing that you want. I think that’s unfair. And I think that’s a big part of why we’ve had so many difficult conversations lately,” Lucas said.

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners recently approved a resolution saying it would no longer take money earmarked for salaries and raises to solve other budget problems. It is a move most city council members support.

Police proposed a $5 million contingency fund to pay for emergency needs, including lawsuit settlements, that previously had been paid from the salary budget.

Third District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson also described her evolving approach to these negotiations following the revelation that Chief Smith said “Bad Guy Dead” at the police shooting of Cameron Lamb in December 2019.

Once vocal on how budget negotiations should happen minus Chief Smith, she now says she wants an explanation of the values of the department and how the budget reflects those values.

“But that has to come from the board of police commissioners. That cannot come from a bureaucrat. That cannot come from a staff member. That has to come from the individuals who are set in commission to do this work and that’s what i want to focus on,” Robinson said.

The two groups expect to hold more meetings with an agreed upon budget taking effect in May.