Independence should ask voters to keep Kansas City from poaching its police officers

Independence should ask voters to keep Kansas City from poaching its police officers

Earlier this year, when Kansas City approved increasing its starting pay for police officers from $50,000 per year to $65,000 — a 30% bump — officials in neighboring Independence took notice. With 38 positions already open, the last thing the Independence Police Department can afford is attrition.

Losing officers or potential recruits to other jurisdictions would have a devastating impact on the quality of life and policing in Independence, according to City Manager Zach Walker.

“You’re just going to see an overall decline in morale, in community response and quality in the kind of response we can provide,” Walker said Monday during a special City Council meeting in Independence.

With the Kansas City Police Department’s competitive salary structure in mind, Walker and staff sprang into action, coming up with a plan to hire and retain more police officers. This week, the Independence council held its first reading of an ordinance that could help keep its officers from being poached by police departments in Kansas City and elsewhere.

If approved by the full council next week, the proposal would ask Independence voters in August to approve a 1/4-cent retail sales tax on purchases in Missouri’s fifth-largest city. I’m generally opposed to regressive sales tax that hurts the working poor more than anyone. But in this scenario, I see no other way forward: The Independence City Council should let voters decide if their police officers deserve more pay.

The KCPD has roughly 1,700 authorized positions and 400 of them are vacant, according to Walker. Its new pay scale, approved earlier this year, could be enticing to certified officers already employed in other cities such as Independence.

“It is a pretty significant hole at 400 they are trying to plug,” Walker said.

Said Councilwoman Bridget McCandless: “They’re going to be highly motivated to harvest officers out of all the surrounding municipalities.”

McCandless thanked Walker for bringing a potential solution to what could be an insurmountable public safety problem. She raised concerns about the potential sales tax but offered that she’d support placing the issue before voters.

“It’s always a hard decision for me to increase the costs for people who live paycheck to paycheck because they pay the most in sales tax,” McCandless said. “That burden rests heavily on them but I think it’s such a dire situation that we really don’t have any choice. I’ll be strongly in favor of getting this going.”

In a presentation to the Independence City Council, Walker said over a 20-year career, a police officer in Kansas City would make over a half-million dollars more than his or her counterpart in Independence. In other words, Independence must pay up or face the possibility of a shrinking police force.

“As it stands today, a Kansas City, Missouri, police officer is going to make nearly $600,000 more than an Independence police officer,” Walker said.

If approved by voters, the starting salary for Independence police officers would increase from about $42,000 to $45,000 per year to $62,000. The sales tax increase would also be used for police officers’ benefits and equipment needs, according to Walker. If approved, the tax would be in effect until voters repealed it.

As of this week, Independence had 192 sworn officers, Walker said. Of the 12 people signed up to take a police examination earlier this month, only two showed up, according to Walker.

By contrast, Kansas City has received 44 applications from current law enforcement officials since its pay scale changed. That disparity could have a disparate effect on policing in Independence, according to city officials.

“We would likely have officers move from Independence to Kansas City where they can make a whole lot more money,” Councilman Jared Fears said. “Obviously that’s detrimental to our department, detrimental to our city.”

For the sake of public safety, the Independence City Council must push this ballot initiative forward and let voters in that city say yes or no to a pay increase for its police officers.

Malcolm McDowell, Jacob Ward to Lead Vietnam Draft Drama ‘Summerhouse,’ Magenta Light Studios Launching Sales at Cannes (EXCLUSIVE) Previous post Malcolm McDowell, Jacob Ward to Lead Vietnam Draft Drama ‘Summerhouse,’ Magenta Light Studios Launching Sales at Cannes (EXCLUSIVE)
The man behind the music of hit drama Next post Rowe leads seven Doncaster departures