The meeting was intended for informational purposes only. But several Independence residents called out their questions anyway during a 30-minute meeting Thursday night about the April 3 general property tax ballot issue for more police personnel.

The meeting was intended for informational purposes only.


But several Independence residents called out their questions anyway during a 30-minute meeting Thursday night about the April 3 general property tax ballot issue for more police personnel.


Two Independence Police Department commanders, as well as District 1 Council Member Marcie Gragg, directed the residents to save their questions until after the meeting and to ask them individually of city officials, who could then provide them with answers.


At least three residents, among the approximately 35 in attendance, asked their questions anyway, such as why the city was using a property tax, the source and validity of crime statistics presented and how it would be guaranteed that 42 additional police personnel will actually be hired.


One tax opponent, James Bailey, distributed handbills stating it was a “bad time for a tax increase,” adding, “Our tax dollars and city employees are being unlawfully used to promote this new tax. The city calls it information. We know it is promotion.”


It was the first informational meeting of its kind in a specific City Council district. Other meetings for districts 2, 3 and 4 are scheduled in the coming weeks, though residents citywide are invited to attend any of the meetings.


As the formal meeting wrapped up at Fairmount Community Center, residents called out questions and gave their opinions, mostly in opposition of the tax, for two minutes.


The meeting’s purpose, Gragg said, was to provide information for those who came “with open hearts and with open minds.” The meeting was not intended to advocate for or against the proposed tax increase, she said.


“We’re happy to provide all of those answers, but nowhere was this ever structured as a debate or a situation where things would get to be contentious between those who are advocating for and against,” Gragg said. “Let’s keep this strictly public informational – we have to do that as city employees.


“… We have to provide that information to you. Why would anybody pass a tax if no one stood in front of them and said, ‘Here’s how we would spend those dollars’?”


During the informational portion, Maj. Travis Forbes, commander of the Administrative Services Division and a 19-year department veteran, said the Independence Police Department is “not trying to say crime is out of control” across the city.


“It’s a safe place,” said Forbes, who grew up in Independence. “I feel comfortable with my family shopping here and being here. ... We don’t mean to give the impression that something is wrong in Independence, but we have some concerns.”


With approximately one-third of Independence bordering the Kansas City city limits, that city’s crime issues also are concerns for Independence, Forbes said. For example, the FBI in 2010 reported that Independence exceeded Kansas City – and all other area cities – in property crime incidents per 1,000 residents.


Nationwide policing issues are common in Independence, such as gangs, Homeland Security concerns, financial crime and identity theft and cyber crimes. Independence police have handled several cases, Forbes said, in which people have answered an advertisement on Craigslist (an online classified site), will meet the person who is selling them the item, and then will steal it from them or will rob them of their money.


“Growing up here, I kind of pictured Independence as a sleepy community, with kind of a small-town feel to it,” Forbes said. “That’s something, honestly, personally, I’d like to preserve.


“But, it is a big city. ... Yeah, it’s got that small-town feel, but we share some of the same concerns with crime and disorder that the other communities around us share.”


Additional personnel, officials say, could help the department practice more proactive policing while also reducing neighborhood disorder and being more visible to the community.


Lt. Col. Brad Halsey, a deputy chief of the Police Department, said he’s heard the question “What happens if this tax doesn’t pass?” asked many times.


“What happens is we’re going to continue to do our business the best that we can, working with the community,” Halsey said. “That’s a straight answer.”


“As long as I’m here,” Forbes said, “we’ll try to do a better job.”