The head of the Kansas City police union said Tuesday that some officers rent trailers and keep two homes to skirt rules that require them to live within the city limits.
The comment came during a contentious exchange between Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99 president Brad Lemon and police commissioner Cathy Dean, during a monthly meeting of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners.
During the exchange, Dean questioned Lemon about the union’s support of a measure now working its way through the Missouri House that would lift the residency requirement that includes Kansas City police officers.
“I was very disappointed to learn that the FOP is in favor of allowing Kansas City, Missouri, officers to live outside of the city,” Dean said.
“We have had several community comments, including today, that the people who we serve want the officers to live in their neighborhoods, not just in the city.”
Last week, Missouri lawmakers gave initial approval to a bill lifting residency requirements for police officers across the state, including Kansas City. The measure originally focused on the city of St. Louis but an amendment expanded the legislation to cover the entire state.
In Kansas City, sworn officers are required to reside in the city for one year before beginning their employment, and civilian workers have nine months to relocate into the city. They must live within city limits for as long as they work for the police department.
“For the FOP to suggest that it is better the officers to be outside the city or even in another state, it’s not a way to help community relations or anything that would make our department better in my point of view,” Dean said.
Police Chief Rick Smith has supported the current residency requirement and voiced his opposition to the change.
POLICE RENTING TRAILERS
Several Kansas City police officers, Lemon said, keep dual residences with one home in another city because their spouses do not want to live in Kansas City.
“People are renting trailers in locations in the city just so they can spent two or three nights in Kansas City and go out where their families are,” Lemon said.
Dean told Lemon those officers who are violating the residency requirements by renting trailers within the city limits but live elsewhere should be terminated.
A Kansas City Police Department spokesman referred to Lemon any questions about the number of officers who kept multiple residences to get around the rule. It was unclear how many officers rented trailers for that purpose.
Lemon said the requirement for police officers to live within the city limits is unfair when some employees are given waivers that allowed them to live outside of Kansas City.
He said the effort to lift the requirement was first supported by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, not the union. He spoke on behalf of his members, Lemon said, and a change in the residency requirement is something they wanted.
“Our members jumped on board when they felt like we would be the only police department in the state of Missouri that was required to live in a specific geographical location,” he said.
“I don’t give them their opinions, they give me theirs,” he said. “I serve at their pleasure and when they tell me this is what their decision is, this is what I do.”
‘THEM AND US’
Mayor Quinton Lucas said Dean was not alone in her viewpoint.
“We have a residency requirement for people who pick up trash in Kansas City; for people who answer calls in the 311 Action Center, for every type of job,” Lucas said. “So, I don’t think that we have been unique in adding this requirement to others.”
Commissioner Mark Tolbert, who is pastor of Victorious Life Church, said he recalled a time when at 12 Kansas City police officers were members of the congregation and lived in the surrounding community.
“What we are missing is relationship,” Tolbert said. “When you have people living outside, it becomes a them and us rather than an us and we.”
The police board has approached local banks and other financial institutions to devise ways to give police officers and other public safety workers assistance and incentives to purchase homes in the urban core, Dean told Lemon.
“I met with you and got the impression that you cared about this community and to see that you would support officers not living in the city disappointed me,” she said.
The Missouri House must approve the bill one more time in order for it to advance to the Senate, where it is expected to be opposed by Kansas City-area lawmakers.