Editorial: Staffing is key to fighting crime

A lack of law enforcement resources and personnel is having noticeable effects on the crime rate.

Amid a startling spike in violent crime, Kansas officials need to look closely at increasing law enforcement staffing at agencies around the state.

On Tuesday, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation presented data on violent crime rates to the Joint Committee of Kansas Security in Topeka. The statistics showed that the number of reported homicides increased 46 percent from 2014 to 2016. There were 148 murders in Kansas in 2016, the highest level since 2000. Other violent crimes — rape, robbery and assault — increased 15 percent.

The KBI provides investigative support to law enforcement agencies throughout the state, many of which don’t have the resources to investigate serious felonies, including homicides. But as violent crimes is increasing, the number of KBI agents is on the decline.

“We currently have twice as many active, open homicides as we do people to investigate them,” said Katie Whisman, an executive officer at KBI. “That’s a threat.”

Whisman said KBI is taking on fewer cases and working agents harder. She said overtime pay expenses increased by more than 700 percent between 2012 and 2017.

KBI statistics show that the number of KBI agents has decreased 11 percent in the past decade, going from 84 agents in 2007 to 75 in 2016. During the same time, the number of sworn law enforcement officers in Kansas decreased 8.5 percent, from 7,325 to 6,704. When factoring in increases in population, the decline in law enforcement staffing is even more severe. The number of law enforcement officers per capita decreased from one officer per every 380 residents to one officer per 435 residents, a decline of 14.5 percent.

In Douglas County, law enforcement staffing has increased, from 239 officers in 2007 to 247 officers in 2016. But because of population growth, the number of law enforcement officers per capita has decreased from one officer per 433 residents in 2007 to one officer for every 476 residents in 2016.

There are no easy solutions to stemming the rise in violent crime, but ensuring law enforcement agencies — including local police and sheriff departments as well as the KBI — have enough resources is a good place to start.