KCTV5 investigates KCPD residence policy - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

KCTV5 investigates KCPD residence policy

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

A four-month undercover investigation finds Kansas City Deputy Police Chief Patty Higgins appearing to live out of line, and not following the policy which requires all police department employees to live within city limits.

Higgins drives a white unmarked patrol car, issued to her by the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners. In early summer, KCTV5 decided to monitor the movements of that car and its driver after receiving a tip that Higgins was living outside city limits.

According to the policy: "All permanent full-time members must reside within the Kansas City, Missouri city limits unless an exception has been granted."

The rule defines residence as a "Place where a person has a true, fixed, and permanent home and whenever absent, has the intention of returning."

In late August, KCTV5 watched Higgins leave police headquarters at the end of the work day and drive north across the Missouri river. Her destination: A horse farm 35 miles from downtown Kansas City. Clay County property records for the place include Higgins' name.

More than a half dozen times, from August to October, KCTV5 observed Higgins head to work from that Smithville, MO, farm in the morning and return there at night. By all appearances, the deputy chief lives at that location.

Higgins does own a home inside Kansas City, so from August to October, KCTV5 watched that house too. A producer made nearly 10 visits there, each time snapping a photo of a completely dark house - no sign of anyone at home or the unmarked patrol car.

KCTV5 called Higgins' office repeatedly to discuss the surveillance and her residency.

When the deputy chief responded, she told investigative reporter Eric Chaloux, "As far as I know, it's within policy. I can drive my car there and stay there at night."

As for the KCMO house, Higgins insisted on calling that her residence, pointing out that is the place where her bed, refrigerator and washer/dryer are located.

Only once did KCTV5 spot Higgins' patrol car outside her KCMO address; the same day she spoke to Chaloux by phone. At 8:30 p.m., the white car was parked in that driveway, but it appeared no lights were on inside.

The Kansas City Police Department is Missouri's only police force under state control. St. Louis recently regained local control of its department. Even before that, the state allowed St. Louis officers to move outside city limits after seven years of service.

That sort of policy is something the president of Kansas City's Fraternal Order of Police, Brad Dumit, says KCMO's rank and file would welcome.

"We would love to sit down and negotiate something where our officers could have a little leniency where they live," Dumit said.

Dumit says a change would help the department keep its top officers. Currently, when employees choose to relocate outside city limits, the department is forced to hire new people. Dumit finds the turnover, caused by the residency policy, frustrating.

"We want the best. In order to do that, we need to be open-minded about it. And we need to move with the times. Most of these other jurisdictions don't have residency requirements," he said.

Residency requirements exist for a number of reasons.

According to University of Central Missouri criminal justice professor Gregg Etters, Ph.D., those who back these policies believe, "You should be part of the community, you should live and pay taxes in the community that is paying you. By and large the public feels safer."

Another argument for residency is quicker response times. But Etters doesn't think that matters much in large departments like KCMO. 

"You have to balance the needs of the public and needs of department," he said.

According to the available records, it's been more than 10 years since someone has been fired for violating the residency rule.

KCTV5's request for an interview with the police board of commissioners, or any of its members, to get a clearer interpretation of the residency policy was declined.

On Monday, Dumit issued a letter to the police board. He repeated that the Fraternal Order of Police wants the police board to re-examine its residency policy. He said exceptions have been granted over the years as part of an effort to recruit and retain certain employees, but this has created a negative impact since rank-and-file employees aren't afforded the same opportunity.

The FOP asked for a thorough review of the situated documented by KCTV5.

"Rank-and-file officers have been, and continue to be, scrutinized about their compliance with the board's policy on residency. Historically, officers have been summarily terminated for failing to comply with the policy, and as such, this situation merits an in-depth investigation to determine if these allegations are true," Dumit stated. "To be absolutely clear, we believe that the involved department member deserves a presumption of innocence until the matter is completely investigated, but we believe that such an investigation is vital to the reputation of the department. Failure to take prompt and necessary action will negatively impact the community's view of the department and its members and will also have a devastating and lasting impact on department morale."

KCTV5's DeAnn Smith contributed to this report.

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