Independence police continue to reach out to residents to find ways to make the city safer.
“We’re working more with the community to solve systemic crime issues,” Deputy Police Chief Travis Forbes told the City Council Thursday evening. The council is considering a $303.86 million city budget that would take effect July 1. On Thursday, city officials continued a series of meetings on department-by-department priorities and plans.
The proposed budget includes $30.12 million for the Independence Police Department, up from $28.9 million in the revised budget for this year. The department has 295 employees, a little more than 200 of whom are sworn officers. Personnel account for 83.7 percent of the department’s costs.
City officials and others have said for years that the city needs more officers. Council Member Karen DeLuccie has suggested reallocating “council goals funds” for two officers and two firefighters, but other council members have expressed other ideas as well, and the council has not yet made a decision.
“Staffing levels obviously remain a concern,” Forbes said.
The department’s proposed budget does include fully funding six positions – four officers, a technology assistant and a crime analyst – up to now partially paid for through grants. That money generally is harder and harder to come by, officials said.
“Now that the grants are going away, we have to absorb that into our budget,” City Manager Robert Heacock said.
Forbes said the department does have new initiatives, such a business academy starting this summer, along the same lines as the citizens academy in place for years. Citizens take classes and have some interaction with officers. The aim is that they come away with a better appreciation of what police deal with, and they might speak or act a little more quickly to head off problems in their neighborhoods.
Forbes also ran through some facts and figures: Violent crime was up 0.9 percent in 2013, though property crimes were down 0.7 percent. He pointed out that the department has cleared, or solved, 25 of the 26 homicides committed in the city in the last five years.
“So if someone commits a homicide in Independence, the odds are very good that they’re going to get caught,” he said.
There are other concerns as well. One is the rise of synthetic drugs, something the city has taken measures to curb. Police are seeing more “crisis intervention,” generally meaning with incidents involving people with mental health issues, as public resources in that area shrink. And last year there was a 24 percent increase in assaults on officers.
Police also are concerned about crime spilling over into the city.
“We border a section of Kansas City that carries one of the highest rates of crime in the metro area,” Forbes said.
The Kansas City Police Department is building a major headquarters on the east side to combat that problem, and police have expressed a concern that criminal activity could be driven elsewhere.
Forbes said the city’s two community policing officers are going a great job.
A patrol officer will be dispatched to a deal with a specific problem and then move on to the next call. A community policing officer can spend a good deal more time, getting a broader picture of what’s going on in a neighborhood and talking things through with residents, heading off problems.
“They’re little things that develop into big problems,” Heacock said.
Forbes said if he could add two people, that’s the job he’d put them in.
“So I think they make a tremendous impact,” he said.
Also in Thursday’s discussion:
• The city plans to update its website to make it easier to use with mobile devices, which are accounting for an ever-larger share of Web usage.
“We need to have more accessibility points on our website,” Heacock said. More broadly, officials are looking at “a transition to a 24-hour city hall,” Heacock said, to accommodate the fact that citizens work at all hours.
• Council Member Karen DeLuccie and Mayor Eileen Weir both suggested that City 7, the city’s government access channel, could be used in different ways.
“I just think it’s underutilized,” DeLuccie said.
Weir said last year’s citizen survey indicated that viewing of the channel is down. She and DeLuccie suggested airing video of some community events.
Mark Baumann, the city’s technology services director, said the use of more video would be good but pointed out that the city currently doesn’t have the equipment and set-up for live broadcasting other than from the City Council chambers at City Hall.