By BRENDEN DZWIERZYNSKI
KU Statehouse Wire Service
TOPEKA — The Kansas Bureau of Investigations is facing financial constraints agency-wide, with understaffed departments trying to handle a more-than 11 percent increase in violent crime across the state.
KBI Director Kirk Thompson met with the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice on Thursday, when he was clear about the agency’s needs in the 2017 legislative session.
“Now we’re at a point where we have used (2016) funding, now we need support in ’18 and ’19 to continue that funding,” Thompson said. “That becomes our primary legislative issue for this year.
Thompson told the committee that in 2015, violent crime rose by 3.9% in the United States, while it rose 11.2% in Kansas. Thompson attributed the rise, in part, to understaffed departments and a lack of funding.
“For us, the trends are alarming,” Thompson said. “And I think that is why it becomes more and more important for the state and local jurisdictions to have adequately staffed and adequately resourced public safety agencies.”
Thompson said most spikes in violent crime throughout the state were noticed in urban areas such as Kansas City and Wichita.
Low staff numbers is also a concern for Thompson. He said the KBI is currently 24 percent understaffed when it comes to special agents, while its forensic science laboratory is 17 percent understaffed.
During his report, Thompson said the KBI has one of the few forensics laboratories in the state, which is the one used by smaller municipalities. Retention rates, especially for forensic scientists, is a point of emphasis for the KBI.
“If you were interested in coming to work for us, and you say ‘I want to do this job, I believe in this mission. What will my compensation look like in 5 years, or in 10 years as I start trying to plan my personal future?’ I couldn’t tell anyone what that compensation would be, because there’s been no change in compensation over time,” Thompson said.
Last year, the KBI implemented a $700,000 plan that created compensation parity with other state government agencies, and is also comparable to other states in close proximity to Kansas, Thompson said. During the legislative session the KBI will request more than $800,000 to assist in recruiting and retention.
The KBI’s target timeline from the beginning of an investigation to the point of potentially going forward with prosecution is 90 days. Thompson said the target is met less than 50 percent of the time. Due to a lack of resources, he said the agency has to plan carefully.
“We have had to eliminate certain categories of crimes we can investigate, because we just don’t have the resources to do that,” Thompson said.
Rep. Russell Jennings (R-Lakin), chairman of the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, said the request for more funding for the KBI is reasonable.
“They want to go ahead and sustain the progress that they’ve made over the last two years, and I have no problem with that,” Jennings said.
Brendan Dzwierzynski is a University of Kansas senior journalism major from LaGrange Park, Ill.