KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith says officers have done a good job during the pandemic, despite having fewer officers on the streets and a lot more 911 calls for help.
Events of the last two years have impacted police staffing and the ability to provide emergency services to citizens, the outgoing chief said.
Smith said so far this year, police have received 20,000 more 911 calls for help compared to last year. The big jump in calls comes at a time when police are down about 200 officers.
The pandemic and the protests following George Floyd’s death have taken a toll on law enforcement strength, according to the department.
Smith told council members before the pandemic, in February 2020, police had 26 law enforcement openings and 48 support staff vacancies. By October 2021, Smith said those numbers surged to 192 unfilled law enforcement jobs and 103 vacant support positions.
“Our overall commitment is to obviously meet the core function of 911 calls that come in from the city, from people who need help,” Smith told city finance committee members.
“I think we did a pretty good job in meeting all that. We have seen some increase in response times as we go through the year. I’m sure that is increased workload and less resources to answer those calls.”
Smith said more than 1,200 of his employees have been quarantined since the pandemic started, more than 1,800 have been tested with 300 positive infections for COVID-19 and one death.
Smith also said the department did not grant any pay raises during the last two years, even though the city council may have budgeted for pay increases.
He also could not say how much money police have paid to settle lawsuits for excessive use of force during that time.
Smith declined to comment following his presentation, calling the police budget “too political.”
Last month, days after one of his officers was convicted of manslaughter, Smith announced he is retiring in 2022. The police board said he isn’t being forced out and always planned to retire after five years in the position.
A specific date for his retirement was not provided, but Smith said it will likely be sometime in early spring after the budget is approved.
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