So, as you know, the Kansas City Missouri city budget is dealing with needing to make cuts in costs throughout city government. Both the police department and the fire department are squarely in the cross hairs. The fire chief has been asked to reduce the department's budget by more then $7 million. Pension changes and benefit reductions are being eyed for the police. Modest raises in salary the police thought were coming their way are in danger of being canceled.
What has been more interesting then the various news stories about budget matters are the comments of readers, both in mainstream media (when allowed--shame on you Kansas City Star for being so stingy in allowing comments on both news and opinion pieces!) and on blogs. There are a lot of people out there who are down on both the police department and the fire department. They slam the police department for not stopping crime. They slam the fire department for not working hard enough and for being too big for its workload.
Are police and fire to be treated differently at contract time and when the budget ax comes out down at city hall? Threatening these services sets off alarm bells for many of the citizens of a city, and also makes the city look less stable for those with money to invest. It is very true that fire's load of structure fires has decreased, but EMS and other service calls, even before the merger with MAST, are increasing. On the other hand, the average police officer is a very busy person, responding to 911 calls almost all their shift. Crime stats are notoriously easy to manipulate, but there is no doubt that our city has too many murders and a lot of violent crime. Cutting back police presence on the street seems like a foolish move in the face of these realities.
The problem is that no decisions will be make without the politics getting in the way, without favors being promised and done, without palms being greased. It will not be a clean assessment, based solely on the science and experience of police or fire management. It will be contaminated by people wanting to protect their kingdoms and fiefdoms, by people who see more clearly the future for themselves than the future for the city. Whatever happens, it will be messy, it will not be the best solution, and it will probably cost too much--the price of politics.