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Kansas City, Kansas, Native Sworn In As Chief Of Police

Newly sworn Kansas City, Kansas, Police Chief Karl Oakman talks about how growing up in Kansas City shaped his outlook on life.
Carlos Moreno
Newly sworn in Kansas City, Kansas, Police Chief Karl Oakman talks about how growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, shaped his outlook on life.

Karl Oakman, a 29-year police veteran, is just the second African-American chief in the diverse city’s history.

Karl Oakman, who grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, was sworn in Monday as the chief of police, saying he was returning “home to a city that raised me and kept me safe.”

Oakman, 51, is a former deputy chief with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department. He is only the second African-American chief in Kansas City, Kansas, which has large Black and Hispanic populations. Boston Daniels served as chief for one year beginning in June 1970.

Oakman, who lost his father at age six and his mother at age 11, said thinking about his past in Kansas City, Kansas, and now being chief, put tears in his eyes. He pointed to a cousin and a sister-in-law in the audience at the ceremony, saying they “helped raise me and shape me.” That past will help him understand what people are going through, he said.

“At the time it was tough, but it served me well throughout my life to make better decisions and to show empathy and understand how law enforcement plays a valuable role in the development of individuals' lives,” he said.

Oakman inherits a department that has been without a chief since the resignation of Terry Ziegler in September 2019 after a sometimes controversial tenure, including claims of corruption and a federal lawsuit by a former police cadet who alleged sexual assault by a supervising officer.

Oakman will also face the ongoing barrage of media stories about former Kansas City, Kansas, detective Roger Golubski, who is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by Lamonte McIntyre, who was exonerated of a double homicide after spending 23 years in prison. Ziegler was once Golubski’s partner.

Mayor Dave Alvey said Oakman is prepared to handle the criticism about the department and ongoing claims about the persistence of problems in the past.

“He does listen very well and he’s going to do a fair and honest assessment of what is presented to him and then take it on,” Alvey said. “That’s what’s so encouraging, his experience in doing that already is a great opportunity for us.”

When asked what he thought about his status as one of the first Black police chiefs in the city’s history, Oakman said he’s never believed on focusing on things that make him different because that won’t help him get things accomplished.

“So what I always focus on is what I can do, what experience, what information I can bring to improve the quality of life of the community as a whole regardless of your social economic status, your race, your gender,” he said. “As a police chief I’m a police chief for all members of the Kansas City, Kansas community.”

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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