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A New Sheriff Could Help Bring More Diversity To The Jackson County Sheriff's Office

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

The resignation of Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp over a sex scandal has, rather unexpectedly, brought to light an issue in the office—a severe lack of diversity.

The office Sharp inherited in 2009 andleft two weeks ago is overwhelmingly white and male.

The committee, who will make recommendations for an interim sheriff, is set to interview applicants Friday. But can an interim sheriff, who will serve only until a new sheriff is sworn in Jan. 1, make any real changes?

The answer is maybe. “I’m looking for someone who is willing to go in and, perhaps, shake up the culture a little bit,” says Jackson County Legislator Crystal Williams, who serves on the advisory committee.

According to figures from the sheriff's office, there are 94 sworn deputies in the office, 90 of whom are white. Only seven deputies are women.

In total, 88 percent of deputies patrolling Jackson County are white men. Just four percent of the force is black, and there are no Latinos or Asians. 

The U.S. Census Bureau reports Jackson County is 63 percent white, 24 percent black and 9 percent Latino. But most of the sheriff's departments patrols are in eastern Jackson County, which is predominantly white.

Legislator Tony Miller is also on the advisory committee, and he says that while diversity is always desirable, it is may not be quite as crucial in that part of Jackson County. "It gets a little thorny with the Jackson County Sheriff's Office where the majority of people they see are white," he says.

The Jackson County sheriff's office even lacks diversity when compared Johnson County, Kansas, which is 87 percent white, according to the U.S. Census. The Johnson County Sheriff's Office, which has a much larger staff because deputies also staff the jail, has 477 sworn members. Nine percent are people of color , according to data from the sheriff's office.

Jackson County Executive Frank White, who will make the final decision about who becomes interim sheriff, is also looking for diversity. “I personally believe that improving diversity in law enforcement, both in our community and across the country, is a critical component in making our communities safer and stronger," he said in a statement.  

While there aren't that many people of color in eastern Jackson County, w0men make up just over half the population, and Williams says she would like to see a female sheriff. “I certainly think that it should be on the table. I’ve had a couple of people challenge me on that, but populations need to see people who look like them in leadership.”

Johnson County also does better there. It has almost four times more women on the force than Jackson County, 15 percent compared to just four percent for Jackson County.

There is a pretty good chance some diversity will come to the top of the office.

The list of finalists revealed Wednesday includes two women and an African American man. The candidates are:

  • Rosilyn Allen is a retired major with the Kansas City Police Department. Her last job was running the violent crime division.
  • Ramona Arroyo is a retired sergeant with KCPD. She was the first Hispanic woman to make sergeant in the department and served in a variety of jobs.
  • Darryl Forté is the retired KCPD chief and was the first African American to lead the department.
  • James Ripley is a retired lieutenant with the Missouri Highway Patrol. His last job was as a patrol supervisor at Troop A in Lee's Summit.
  • Michael Rogers is the only internal candidate. He currently leads the patrol division.

Interviews begin at 9:00 Friday morning at the Mid-America Regional Council downtown.
Sam Zeffis KCUR's Metro Reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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