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KC Police Chief Rick Smith to leave post in the spring. Here’s how next chief is chosen

·3 min read

When Police Chief Darryl Forté unexpectedly announced that he would retire in May 2017, the police board hired a firm to conduct a national search for a new chief.

The months long process to select a new police chief generally includes extensive background checks, screenings, interviews with board members and a series of public meetings to receive input from citizens.

Police Chief Rick Smith, who succeeded Forté, will leave in the spring.

On Thursday, Kansas City Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said she plans to introduce an ordinance that would allocate $200,000 to help the Board of Police Commissioners hire a search firm that will identify candidates. The board controls who is appointed as head of the department.

“We’re not in any way trying to suggest that it is our decision,” Shields said. “If there are financial limitations in terms of them being able to do a national search, we want to take that limitation away so they don’t have to worry about that.”

Shields said the police board should look beyond promoting any potential internal candidates.

“This is not in anyway us attempting to supplant the board,” she said. “It is their decision, it is their power to hire and fire within their purview.”

Calls for Smith to step down were renewed Nov. 20 when Det. Eric DeValkenaere was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Cameron Lamb.

Four days later, The Star reported that Smith was being forced out of his position as police chief. A memo addressed to Smith from board president Bishop Mark Tolbert and Mayor Quinton Lucas said that Smith would announce his retirement March 1 and that his last day will be April 22.

Earlier this week, the police board confirmed that Smith will retire in the spring, staying at least through the city’s current budget process.

Smith faced criticism Tuesday after audio of the chief calling Lamb the “bad guy” at the scene of the December 2019 shooting was released.

When Forté was hired in 2011, police commissioners said they wanted a police chief who believed in de-escalation and new policing techniques that would create a less combative climate, said Lisa Pelofsky who served on the police board from 2010 to 2014.

They also wanted someone who had managerial experience and experience working in various units within the police department.

“We were looking for individuals who really understood how to operate a large organization, and how to inspire and motivate those employees and what kind of tools could we give them to get the work done,” Pelofsky said.

The current police board has a number of factors to consider when selecting the next police chief, she said.

“Qualified candidates should have an understanding that policing in this country has come to sort of a crisis point in interacting with the public,” Pelofsky said.

Several community leaders said the next police chief should be someone outside of the Kansas City Police Department who can bring in new ideas.

“There has been way too many officers, captain, and sergeants on the force and in the department that have been hiding their heads in the sand, pretending they don’t see the atrocities that have been going on right before their eyes, as our city has allowed, encouraged, and even incentivized the situation to spiral this far out of control,” said Randy Fikki, senior pastor of Unity Southeast, who led several Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

Community leaders such as Darron Edwards said the next police chief should have a background in dealing with diversity in the community.

They should also embrace financial transparency and have a documented history of building community engagement, partnerships, and community involvement with accountability boards, said Edwards who is the lead pastor for United Believers Community Church.

“Undeniably, there are good and talented police officers within KCPD,” Edwards said. “This is about true culture change within the department. In terms of establishing hope and trust within communities who have been traumatized and victimized, this is the best solution. “

Kansas City Chief of Police Rick Smith.
Kansas City Chief of Police Rick Smith.
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