Wednesday, February 15, 2012

KCFD and KCPD: Heroes or Villains?

One of the great laws of municipal life is that the jobs of the police department and the fire department are not like other city jobs, that their jobs are different because of the risk involved in the work and the nature of the job. When hard times come, or when contracts are up for renewal and negotiation, that is when we see this most strongly demonstrated. The fire department and police department members are seen as either indispensable heroes or lazy, greedy villains.

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.

3 comments:

Dr. Ernest Evans said...

Good posting!! And, yes, KCMO does have a most serious crime problem--and it is getting worse. In the twelve month period before Sly James took office there were 98 homicides in KCMO--in the nine and a half months since he was sworn in there have been 100 homicides (101 if baby Lisa turns out to be dead). As of today, KCMO is on track to have the first year of James' administration as the second or third bloodiest year in the city's history. I hasten to add that this crime disaster is largely not his fault--the groundwork for this disaster has been in the process of being created for years before he was mayor--he walked into a bad situation. Take care. Sincerely and Respectfully, Ernest Evans

Bob G. said...

T.O.:
I agree with the good doc here, even though I don't live there (but I follow cities similar to ours)
One MAJOR thing you citizens have to watch for is whenever a city "needs" to make CUTS...never allow them to COMPROMISE PUBLIC SAFETY...that starts you down the path of DETROIT...and you don't want to go THERE.

And ALWAYS expect "politics" to get in the way (as you said).
THAT is one of the greatest probelms any city can face...too much of that stuff.

One misconception is that the police CAN "prevent" crime as they are permitted today...can't be done.
All they CAN do (and rather well) is INVESTIGATE, because THOSE tools are more and better than in years past.
If you really want to PREVENT crime, you have to go to the ROOT of the problem, and I can tell you that it ALWAYS comes back to...THE PEOPLE.

When penalites are enacted AND enforced all around (and not for some), that becomes a darn good "first step".
Consider the amount of crime you have, and then WHO (exactly) is perpetrating them...
It will inevitably be the minority of the minority, with other ethnicities doing their share, but we';re looiking at less than 20% of the populace...closer to 15%.
That SHOULD be managebvale enough...IF 2 things opccur:
1) Police can do their job.
2) People are held accountable.

Like I said...that's the first step...the rest will fall into place, if it is allowed to happen.

Excellent post.

Stay safe out there.

Super Dave said...

The city dose not need to make cuts.

What they need to do is stop handing money out hand over fist to every corporate Johhny who comes along with a hand out saying they want to build a building somewhere.

But hey what do I know in KC-MO it's screw public safety and welcome corporate swindlers.