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Kansas City, Mo., Merges Police and City IT Efforts

To avoid redundant services and boost resources on both sides, Kansas City IT is merging with its law enforcement tech department. The sensitive nature of police work means the move is no small feat.

A police car at night with lights on.
City IT and police IT in Kansas City, Mo., are merging. As with any similar move, the arguments in favor are straightforward: save money by eliminating duplicative services and roles. But it’s perhaps harder than in any other case to convince a law enforcement agency to open up its systems and its processes to non-law enforcement staff. For this reason, it’s not a merger that often happens. 

Planning for this initiative, known as OneIT, started about five years ago, but city CIO Dave Evans said work on the ground began in 2017, the same year he was promoted from deputy CIO to his current position.

The decision to consolidate the IT departments seemed natural: The police department’s data center and the city’s data center were already in the same building, and Evans’ agency has been assisting police IT for years. The benefits, in terms of cost savings and putting IT governance and operations under the same umbrella, would appear obvious even to an outsider.

What’s less apparent to the average eye is the unique challenge of implementing OneIT. Like any IT consolidation, the project has been slow and hard. But to grasp what the process is really like, one must understand the distinct history of the Kansas City Police Department.

KCPD reports to the state of Missouri through a governor-appointed board rather than to the city. State control of the department dates back to the 1930s, when corrupt political boss Tom Pendergast, with his grip on the police, turned Kansas City into “the heartland’s decadent home of Jazz Age gambling dens, brothels and all-night taverns,” according to the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement’s website. In response, Missouri passed legislation to take over the compromised police force.

The KCPD’s unusual status as a state-run city department has made OneIT “probably one of the toughest mergers of IT services that you could imagine,” Evans said. Although the first phase of OneIT, which involved uniting the two data centers, has been finished for a little more than a year, the staff migration phase has proven to be a more difficult component of the plan. “We’ve migrated staff into their [police IT’s] area where it makes sense for the operational areas to be together,” Evans indicated. “We’ve had very little movement the other way. A lot of that is due to, as you can imagine, staff reporting issues and just concerns by staff of possible retirement changes or reporting changes.”

Furthermore, Evans said even though city IT staff are certified to deal with criminal justice information systems, police IT employees have been working directly in criminal justice for so long that they perhaps “feel like it is difficult to work with outside agencies.”

Completing the staff migration phase carries importance for multiple reasons. First, neither the city nor the police is fully staffed in IT, so combining staff efforts would minimize new hires and better ensure quality services. Second, the city has identified potential savings well beyond the initial expectation of $6.5 million over five years, but those additional savings will involve utilizing the necessary staff and resources, which will require a higher degree of cooperation between the agencies.

Evans does see light at the end of the tunnel despite the lack of local jurisdiction over KCPD. His team maintains regular communication with the police, and the police chief has expressed many times that he’s 100 percent on board with OneIT. For Evans, it’s simply a matter of continuing to build relationships with certain individuals on the force who see public safety as their ultimate priority. “It’s going to take time for people to feel comfortable with it, to realize it’s not a hostile takeover, [that] it’s all for the benefit of the city,” Evans said.

Jed Pressgrove has been a writer and editor for about 15 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University.