WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – At least two members of the Wichita City Council are sounding the alarm, saying that there’s a public safety crisis. With recent violent crimes and a possible officer shortfall on the way, some are saying that we need to spend money now.
“It’s pretty clear what’s happening in Wichita right now, and we have a public emergency,” said Wichita City Council Member Bryan Frye on Monday.
Frye, who is running for mayor, says the city needs to consider spending some of the City of Wichita’s projected $12.6 million surplus for the next budget cycle on hiring and retaining cops.
In a public media forum Monday, Frye pointed out that the Wichita Police Department needs about 100 more commissioned officers. And the current recruiting class, says Frye, has only ten potential officers.
“It’s simple math,” said Frye.
He is not alone.
Council Member Jeff Blubaugh says staffing for public safety is in crisis mode, and money needs to be considered to fix what he calls a crisis.
“Yes, this is a public safety crisis,” said Blubaugh. “So, I brought this up at our last budget retreat. Major concerns. You know we’re down 75 – 100 police officers. We’ve had a lagging trend of being down for a while, but now the numbers are just getting too large.”
Blubaugh discussed the issue at a Monday night district advisory board meeting and offered public input on whether or not to spend some of the expected city surpluses out of the next budget.
Some residents agree public safety needs attention, perhaps right away.
“Public safety, streets and schools. That’s what most people want their tax money spent on,” said Wichita resident Vincent Hancock. “We have some really good accountants at the city that show us exactly how much we’re supposed to hold in reserves.”
It’s the reserves for a rainy day that Frye contends the city council will consider spending, at least some of the reserves and projected budget surplus for the 2024 budget.
“It’s aggressively recruiting. It’s compensation. It’s benefits. It’s support, it’s training. It’s additional staff that are non-commissioned officers. This is a whole approach to needs to happen,” said Frye of the need to consider spending more on public safety. “We’re predicting increased revenues in 2025, 2026 and 2027, and if the public doesn’t believe this is a safe community, are you going to invest your business here? Are you going to move your family here?”
Some county leaders say they’ve seen the same issue in trying to recruit and retain for public safety.
“Certainly public safety is the number one concern for the county, and that’s where we’re going to put the most of our money as we’re putting our budget together,” said Sedgwick County commissioner David Dennis. “911 has to be fully staffed. EMS has to be fully staffed. We are short people in corrections, so we’re facing the same issues.”
The city council for Wichita will bring up the next budget on Tuesday, with additional chances for public input on July 16 and July 27.