Police board sues Kansas City, mayor over budget plans

May 28, 2021 GMT

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners filed a lawsuit Friday against the mayor and City Council over plans to change how a portion of the police budget will be spent.

The board voted 4-1 during a closed meeting to file the lawsuit, with Mayor Quinton Lucas as the only dissenting vote.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, also names City Manager Brian Platt and City Finance Director Tammy Queen.

It came after the City Council passed two ordinances last week that moved $42.3 million from the police department’s budget to a new fund that would support social services and community engagement programs aimed at addressing the root causes of some violent crime.


The ordinances would require the city manager and board of commissioners to negotiate over how the funds are spent — a significant change because city officials currently have no authority over the Kansas City Police Department’s budget or operations.

Kansas City is the only city in Missouri that does not have local control of its police department. The board of commissioners consists of the mayor and four members who are appointed by the governor.

Bishop Mark Tolbert, president of the commission, said in a statement Friday that he understood the frustration of some city officials and residents but said state law must be followed. He asked the mayor and City Council to withdraw the ordinances while the commission continues discussions with city officials and other stakeholders.

“Our goal is to work together to strengthen and improve the services we provide to the diverse population of Kansas City, Missouri,” Tolbert wrote.

The lawsuit argues that state law gives the board of commissioners “exclusive management and control” of the Kansas City Police Department and specifically prohibits the city from disbursing police funds without the board’s permission.

“While the Board commits and spends millions of dollars every fiscal year on community interaction, outreach, engagement and other priorities, the City cannot lawfully mandate the expenditure of funds as it dictates and in violation of state law,” the lawsuit reads. “The Board has a solemn obligation to ensure lawful operation of the police department and is compelled to protect its own autonomy as set out in (state law).”

The lawsuit asks the court to order the City Council to reverse the reclassification of the $42.3 million. It also seeks declarations that the two ordinances are void, and that the city and the named officials are prohibited from cutting or reclassifying police funding without the board’s approval.

Critics of the change, including four City Council members who represent suburban Kansas City districts, and some state lawmakers, say the changes are a roundabout way to “defund” the police, and they allege it will cause layoffs at a time when the city needs more officers.

On Friday, Lucas rejected those statements, saying every officer who currently has a job will keep it. He contended the changes are designed to improve police and city accountability to the public, especially to mostly minority neighborhoods that endure most of the city’s violence.

Lucas and other supporters of the change, including several civil rights organizations, said the city needs to find new ways to address the continued violent crime, rather than simply hiring more officers. They also note the Police Department had a budget of about $238 million but city leaders have no say in how those millions are spent.

Lucas has previously said he believes state having control of the Police Department violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which says people must be treated the same under the law.

After the vote, Lucas said the city “reluctantly embraces” the litigation as a possible path to regaining local control of the department, even if it requires taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I appreciate that rather than fixing this in the legislature, a court will decide on whether this system, one that ignores the voices of the people and hasn’t worked for decades, is good for Kansas City,” the mayor said.

Some Kansas City-area lawmakers have asked Republican Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session to address the controversy. The governor criticized the changes but has not said whether he will call a special session.