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Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith to stay on the job until spring 2022

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith talks during an Operation LeGend update during an August press conference with then United States Attorney General William Barr.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith speaks during an Operation LeGend update during an August press conference with then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

After a closed-door session Monday, the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners announced that it never voted to fire Smith and that he “remains in good standing” with the board.

After nearly a week of speculation that Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith was being forced out, the board that oversees the department on Monday announced that Smith would stay in charge through spring 2022.

Board chair Bishop Mark Tolbert read a brief statement after a closed-door meeting with the other six commissioners, including Mayor Quinton Lucas, that seemed aimed at quelling the animosity that erupted last week in a public scuffle between the board and Smith.

“The board never had a vote to terminate Chief Smith,” Tolbert said. “The chief has long planned to retire after five years as chief, culminating his 35 years of loyal service to the department.”

Tolbert said Smith will stay on through the city’s current budget process, which typically finishes at the end of March.

“The chief remains in good standing with the Board of Police Commissioners,” Tolbert said.

Social justice leaders reiterated their call for Smith's firing on Monday.

"There is a wide swath of the community whose interests are not represented by the leadership of this department and we have been calling for his departure since June of 2020," said Lora McDonald, executive director of MORE2.

The board's statement did not settle the confusion created last week after news surfaced that Smith was being ousted. Although an official statement from KCPD said Smith would announce his plans to retire in 2022, by Tuesday night a defiant Smith told reporters he wasn’t going anywhere.

Steps laid out in a memo obtained by KCUR through an open records request called for Smith to step down on April 22, 2022, and to be paid his normal salary through August 2022. The memo, written by Tolbert and dated Nov. 23, outlined the terms of Smith’s retirement after a meeting with Smith, Tolbert and Lucas that morning.

Smith, who was hired in 2017, has had a rocky tenure that featured loud criticism over his handling of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, public showdowns with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker over officer-involved shootings and a high number of homicides. The city also faces potential high-dollar civil damage lawsuits from the families of several Black men who were shot and killed by KCPD officers.

"In the past year, KCPD spent more than twice the amount they budgeted for payouts on officer negligence and other settlements, so it makes one speculate what significant difference his participation in the budgetary process even makes," MORE2's McDonald said.

Civil rights leaders have been particularly critical of Smith, and a coalition of civil rights leaders has called for an investigation of KCPD by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Don’t let the door hit you,” the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City tweeted on Monday after news of the board’s statement was posted on Twitter.

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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