Kansas City, Kansas, Unified Government officials on Thursday announced four finalists who are vying to become the city’s next police chief.
Finalists are: Kansas City, Kansas, Police Deputy Chief Pamela Waldeck, Kansas City Police Deputy Chief Karl Oakman, Vince E. Davenport, an associate deputy director for the U.S. Department of Justice, and Rich Austin, who is chief of the Milton Police Department in Georgia.
The candidates are being interviewed through several rounds, and the decision will ultimately be made by County Administrator Doug Bach. The announcement of a police chief is expected to be made sometime next month.
Since September 2019, the police department has been led by Interim Police Chief Michael York.
York was tapped for the job following the resignation of former chief Terry Ziegler, whose 29-year career with the department ended under heavy scrutiny related in part to a police cadet who sued the department. She alleged Ziegler fired her for reporting a sexual assault at the hands of her supervisor, an officer.
York joined the police department in 1992 as a patrol officer. He was promoted to detective in 1998 and then to captain in 2007. York became a major in 2012 and was promoted to assistant police chief in 2016. He then rose to deputy chief the following year.
York, meanwhile, intends to retire at the end of this year.
Since Wednesday, the finalists have participated in an assessment process facilitated by Unified Government officials.
This includes simulated exercises, and interviews with police command staff, neighborhood groups and police union leaders. Finalists will tour various neighborhoods. They will be interviewed by Bach and take part in a special session of the Unified Government Commission on Thursday evening.
A department under scrutiny
The new chief will inherit a police department under intense public scrutiny amid allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by police officers and broader calls for reform.
A number of social justice advocacy groups held protests in June 2019 and demanded the termination of Zeigler, the former police chief. They also called for outside investigations of allegations against KCKPD, saying the department’s office of internal affairs is inadequate to review current and past allegations of misconduct.
One such controversy hanging over the department is the past conduct of Det. Roger Golubski, who stands accused of using his police badge to exploit vulnerable Black women for sexual favors and coerce some into providing false testimony in cases he investigated. Golubski, who left the department in 2010 after 35 years, has denied the accusations.
The search is also taking place at a time where communities across the country are calling for police reform and accountability from their departments.
A community survey commissioned by the local government found most residents in Kansas City, Kansas, are seeking a police chief who can help build community relationships.
Of around 250 people surveyed, nearly 62% cited improving community relationships among the top three priorities the next chief should focus on. The following two most selected by respondents were reducing crime and advancing police technology.
Following Ziegler’s resignation, some area organizations began lobbying the local government for changes to the process that might create more community input. Among them was MORE2, which seeks to promote racial and economic equity in Kansas and Missouri.
Marcus Winn, of MORE2, said many in the community have felt they had no way to meaningfully voice their opinions during past police chief hiring processes. Area activists hope the current process “takes seriously what the community wants to see moving forward,” he said during an interview with The Star earlier this week.
“I think there is a broad desire to see somebody who is willing to change the direction of the department from where it’s been historically,” Winn said. “And I think that inclines me to say, we need to take a serious look at outside candidates and candidates of color. And probably candidates with a proven track record of reform.”
Part of the process includes a round of interviews with a so-called Blue Ribbon Committee that includes members of the business community and civic leaders.
One of the committee members is Denise Tomasic, a Kansas City, Kansas, attorney who specializes in workers compensation cases. She also is a member of the board of the Police Athletic League. She thinks programs like that, where children have positive interactions with officers, stand as an example of the ways the police department and community relationship can become stronger.
“That’s the kind of thing I hope to see in a new chief,” Tomasic said Tuesday, adding: “We’ve already got a pretty good base here. But taking things (to) the next step in terms of re-imagining what the police department can be in a community.”