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Mo. police department receives $1.5M grant to prevent dispatching infrastructure failure

Jackson County agreed to supply funding for an “emergency” situation after Kansas City government could not provide it


Tammy Ljungblad

By Luke Nozicka
The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jackson County will spend more than $1.5 million to prevent a potential infrastructure failure that could wreak havoc on Kansas City’s ability to dispatch officers to 911 calls.

County legislators voted unanimously Monday to issue a $1.5 million check to the Kansas City Police Department so the agency can replace its aging computer-aided dispatching system, which is used to process 911 calls and track where officers have been sent.

The resolution is not a fix to the growing problem of Kansas City’s lengthy 911 hold times, but instead averts a “dire situation” in the future, as one police official put it. Without the funding, KCPD leaders warned, its communications unit would shut down digitally, forcing dispatchers to document calls by hand on note cards and significantly slowing down response times.

That happened a month ago when the outdated computer system — bought 10 years ago with a recommended five-year lifespan — “faltered temporarily” for eight hours.

The money will come from a taxpayer-funded pool that, as of July, had $2.4 million left for improvements for 911 issues. KCPD said it made the request to Jackson County after the city could not provide the money.

Legislator Sean Smith, of the county’s southeast 6th District, asked about requesting that Kansas City cover some of the expense. He did not like passing the resolution without a match from the city, he said, but also called the situation an emergency.

Jackson County Administrator Troy Schulte said he will speak with KCPD and “see if we can work something out.”

At a meeting of the county’s 911 Oversight Committee earlier Monday, Legislator Jalen Anderson, 1st District at-large, asked if KCPD requested funding from Clay, Platte or Cass counties. Kansas City includes parts of all four counties.

Derek McCollum, deputy chief of KCPD’s executive services bureau, reached out to Clay County but said “unfortunately” the county only taxes landlines, not cellphones, so there isn’t enough money. Same goes for Platte County, he said. KCPD did not ask Cass County.

“The revenue they bring in isn’t even enough to cover the services that they provide for Clay County,” McCollum said, adding that Clay County dipped into its general fund to support 911 infrastructure there.

Police Chief Stacey Graves was present, along with a handful of KCPD employees, as legislators cast their votes.

The additional funding will not vastly improve 911 wait times in Kansas City, which Mayor Quinton Lucas has said are “longer than ever.” Wait times in Kansas City remain well below the national average, which Lucas and other officials have called a public safety crisis.

Kansas City is considering running its own call center instead of sharing one with the rest of the metro through the Mid-America Regional Council, known as MARC.

Motorola, which makes the equipment used in the regional 911 system, is separately researching and developing a way to set up an auto-attendant in Kansas City, as requested this year by the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners. The police board hopes that will decrease the amount of time callers wait and improve officer response times.

If that technology is eventually implemented, residents will be able to select, through an automated call attendant, if they are trying to reach police, fire department, emergency medical services or non-emergency assistance.

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