Independence City Council approves police bonuses, ballistic helmets

Mike Genet

Independence police officers will receive retention bonuses, along with additional safety equipment, after the City Council approved the funding mechanism. 

The council voted 4-2 to approve an amended spending plan for the city's allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds, which is more than $10.7 million for the first of two years. Included in that plan is $1.47 million for $8,000 payments to active police officers, master officers and sergeants. It's a retention effort as the city struggles to fill police vacancies. About 180 officers will receive a bonus, City Manager Zach Walker said. 

The American Rescue Plan Act includes pandemic relief money approved by Congress earlier this year. 

Two weeks ago, the council approved the bonuses but not the spending plan to fund them. 

Also in the plan is $315,000 for police hiring incentives and about $100,000 for ballistic helmets and protective equipment. That had been planned even before Officer Blaize Madrid-Evans was fatally shot last week in the line of duty. Earlier this year, another IPD officer was grazed on the head by a suspect's bullet but not seriously wounded. Four years ago, another officer nearly died after he was hit in the head with a freak ricochet bullet when officers fired at a fleeing suspect vehicle. 

Walker said the $100,000 will cover about 250 helmets. 

Council Members Brice Stewart and Mike Steinmeyer each offered amendments to the spending plan, but neither got enough support for a majority. 

Stewart asked for the $1.4 million slated for Square streetscape spending over two years to instead go to body cameras, de-escalation training, a shot-spotter program and a crisis negotiation throw phone for police, along with additional Health Department start-up funds. Steinmeyer asked for the $1.6 million toward paying off the Uptown Market loan to instead go to a Fire Department pumper truck and an emergency mobile command unit. 

Only Council Member Mike Huff supported them with either amendment, and those three council members and Dan Hobart initially voted against the full spending plan. Huff, Stewart and Steinmeyer also asked for a resolution simply directing Walker to spend on the three police items, separate from the rest of the ARPA plan, but that also failed 3-3.  

Hobart then asked to reconsider the full amended spending plan, and Huff and Hobart switched to yes votes to pass it, joining John Perkins and Mayor Eileen Weir.  

Council Member Karen DeLuccie has been absent for a few weeks as she recovers from an illness, leading to several 3-3 votes on the council. 

Huff and Steinmeyer lamented the lack of support for additional public safety funding while money for Square infrastructure was added to the spending plan. 

“I'm very disappointed that we're not putting our public safety and the welfare of our citizens first instead of pet projects,” Huff said. 

“Our city is in a struggle in its identity,” Steinmeyer said. “We're going to have nice roads and nice parking lots, but we're not giving support to our first responders.” 

The spending plan offered a chance to catch up some on manpower and revenue shortages for first responders, he said, “but we're going to have nice streets on the Square.” 

“I hope we really take to heart what type of city we're leaving for the next generation,” Steinmeyer said. 

Weir said the community will have an opportunity to vote on additional public safety spending Nov. 2, when a larger share of sales taxes for police and a higher sales tax for the Fire Department will be on the ballot.