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A ballot measure passed in Missouri requiring Kansas City to spend more on police

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Missouri voters sent Republican Eric Schmitt to the Senate yesterday. They also approved some ballot measures. And one of them - this is really interesting. One of these ballot measures is a constitutional amendment requiring Kansas City, Mo., to spend more on their own police force. This is, of course, seen as a backlash to calls on the left to defund the police. We've called Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City, who's a Democrat. Welcome to the program, sir.

QUINTON LUCAS: Good morning. And it's great to be with you.

INSKEEP: What does it mean for your city that the whole state just told your city specifically to step up police funding?

LUCAS: Well, it has disenfranchised the people of the largest city in Missouri. As you noted in the intro, this is about national politics, alleged defund the police claims. As somebody who has been in public office for seven years, who has increased the police budget each year, this is nothing more than right-wing talking points and, in a way, state control making Kansas City akin to a colony. What we're trying to do is actually do things like increase officer salaries, trying to do more investment in community resources that help support our police. The state rejected that last night. And I think this will be the beginning of an ongoing legal battle about whether Kansas Citians actually have equal protection rights.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note, the ballot measure being on the ballot across the state was, of course, on the ballot in Kansas City. And my understanding is that your city's voters rejected this idea.

LUCAS: My city's voters rejected this idea. They, I think, have made a clear statement starting yesterday that they want local control of their police department. It's something that just makes sense. The bigger, more national concern that I have is that more particularly red states do this sort of thing to places like St. Louis, New Orleans, any number of places where I think you can see state legislatures trying to take more control, which will make our communities, long-term, less safe.

INSKEEP: And that could be a national trend simply because state legislatures are so firmly entrenched for Republicans. Is that your concern?

LUCAS: That's absolutely my concern. On issue after issue, since I've been mayor - and I talked to other mayors, particularly Black mayors, around the country who run into these issues of state preemption on anything they're trying to do and accomplish that's good for their community, any idea that doesn't really fit the most right-wing of Republican talking points. And it is something that is a tremendous concern.

Today, it's policing in Kansas City. Tomorrow, it may be reproductive rights access. It might relate to education of culturally competent lessons. You are seeing more of that in states around America. And they're not just comfortable with passing state legislation. They're largely trying to take over things like public safety and public education in individual communities like mine. It is a huge concern for any blue dot in a red sea here in America.

INSKEEP: But let's get down to the fundamental anxiety here about crime. And we should be frank and very clear about this. Crime is way, way down from 30 years ago - way, way down. But it is up over the last couple of years still. It's higher than it was a couple of years ago. It's clear to me that voters were concerned. When I interviewed voters, I heard Democratic voters concerned about crime. I heard Black voters concerned about crime. It is something that voters clearly perceived as a problem. If not by more police funding, how do you respond to that?

LUCAS: I, first of all, think that more police funding could be appropriate. It's just a choice that should be made by individual cities, mayors, city councils and, frankly, their communities. But in terms of other ideas, I think that we are missing a huge issue. If we don't look at the impact of guns and the lack of regulation of firearms at all in places like Kansas City. We have a homicide problem. We've had one, basically, my whole life. But we broke a record in 2020. Part of that relates to the fact that you have unfettered carrying rights - take your gun almost anywhere in this state. You have assault weapons that you can use or take almost anywhere. That is contributing to so many of the murders and shootings on our streets, which then lead to retaliation and have led to absolutely terrible results.

If you look at the most violent cities in America, most of them find themselves in red states where you have God-awful gun policy, where you have terrible investment in public education and you have poor investment in health care and housing. After a while, I hope legislatures and, frankly, people all around say, yes, the police are an important part of it. I have never been a police-defunder (ph), an abolish-the-police person, but there's a lot more that you need to do. And I think a lot of us who consider ourselves moderates here in middle America are trying to do that sort of thing but continue to be ran - run into opposition from Republican legislatures.

INSKEEP: Well, we've got about 30 seconds here. But I'd like to ask you specifically about that argument about guns - gun regulation, gun control. Do you have an idea, in 30 seconds, of how you would take that argument to the redder areas of your state, where people feel very differently about guns?

LUCAS: Yeah, it's very simple, right? I'm not a radical. I just want laws that exist in the way that they did when I was a Missourian in 1995. For better or worse, I'm from this state. I'm proud to be from this state. But nonetheless, we had laws that required people to get permits to carry concealed weapons. Those are the very simple things that can happen. And that's very, very easy to do and message because no one wants their kids getting shot in a school. No one. And that's consistent regardless of party.

INSKEEP: Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City. Thank you so much, sir.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.