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Faith Group Joins Civil Rights Leaders, Others, In Calling For Ouster Of Kansas City Police Chief

Rick Smith addresses the protest crowd last summer announcing the purchase of body cameras for the Kansas City police.
Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith addresses a Black Lives Matter protest last spring in this file photo.

A large regional council of the Presbyterian Church called Thursday for the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners to fire embattled Chief Rick Smith.

A large regional church group called on the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners Thursday to fire Chief Rick Smith, citing his refusal to work with independent excessive force investigations, a lack of trust with the Black community, and his inability to being racial diversity to the police force.

Saying the board has a “moral obligation,” the Heartland Presbytery, a council of the Presbyterian Church, joined several civil rights groups and other religious organizations in calling for Smith’s removal.

“Too many problems are being swept under the rug,” reads a letter addressed to the board’s president, Don Wagner. “Eventually, the ‘dirt’ under that rug will harm the entire city in a way all Kansas Citians will all regret if we do not take action now.”

Wagner could not be reached for comment, but the board has a monthly meeting on Tuesday. An email to the police department seeking comment was succinct:

“The chief has no plans to resign,” wrote Capt. Dave Jackson of the media unit.

The cry for Smith’s resignation was first made during the Black Lives Matter protest last spring and summer and has slowly escalated since then. So far, the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP and other religious groups have said Smith should go. Kansas City Councilman Eric Bunch called for Smith’s resignation in January.

The Heartland Presbytery consists of 81 congregations, 11 worshipping communities, and 173 ministers across western Missouri and eastern Kansas. In an interview, the Rev. Dee Cooper, interim executive presbyter, cited the letter in saying the board may no longer ignore the Black community and resist changes in the department.

Cooper also said her group is concerned by the lack of transparency in all dealings with the department and board.

“It deeply concerns us that there is not sharing of public documents, to examine the need for accountability. We feel that’s essential, particularly in today’s world, that there are closed door meetings happening,” she said.

“This, to us, is a journey we do together as a society in being able to open the doors and honestly reflect what needs to change here.”

The letter also called out the ongoing feud the department is having with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who has been open about her frustration in KCPD’s recalcitrance on handing over probable cause statements in excessive force and officer-involved shooting cases.

“It is the duty of concerned people, even if an uncomfortable one, to no longer be silent over Chief Smith’s total lack of a working relationship with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker,” the letter says.

A spokesman for Baker's office declined to comment on the letter.

The faith group also told the board that it must address the racial makeup of the force.

"It is urgent that the Board of Police Commissioners open their eyes to the reality that under Smith’s leadership, the department is whiter than when he took this job three years ago," the letter said. "Its officers have shot and killed twice as many Black men as were shot and killed during the first three years under the previous chief."

The letter also noted that Smith did away with an anti-violence strategy, The Kansas City No Violence Alliance, that Baker endorses.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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