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Community leaders encourage residents to get involved in search for Kansas City’s next police chief

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Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
/
KCUR 89.3
A public forum was held on Zoom and Facebook Live Saturday to discuss the hiring process for police chief.

At a virtual forum Saturday, social justice leaders and community members discussed the hiring process and brainstormed the qualities they want to see in the next chief. 

More than 100 participants joined four panelists at a public forum Saturday to discuss the hiring process and desired prerequisites of a new Kansas City, Missouri, police chief. The event was hosted by the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, the Police Accountability Task Force, Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equality (MORE2), the Jackson County Bar Association, Ad Hoc Group Against Crime and Third District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson.

Urban League President and CEO Gwen Grant called attention to the fact Kansas City is one of the only U.S. cities without local control over its police department. Instead, the department is overseen by a five-member Board of Police Commissioners, composed of the mayor and four people appointed by the Missouri governor.

“Other cities have their mayor, their city council, their city manager, playing the leading role in the search, selection and hiring of the new police chief,” said Grant. “We don’t have that here. What we have is a board of police commissioners who can choose to gather input from the community at large or they can choose not to do so.”

Outgoing Chief Rick Smith announced in November he would be retiring in early 2022, but he has yet to specify exactly when. Activists and civil rights groups began calling for his removal following the Black Lives Matter protests in the spring and summer of 2020.

Event organizers urged the community to participate in future discussions about the next police chief. Lora McDonald, executive director of MORE2, encouraged Kansas Citians to attend the next Board of Police Commissioners meeting on Feb. 22 to tell commissioners what they want to see in the next police chief.

“Go down there and start talking about this,” said McDonald. “Because you’re right, Mrs. Grant, they don’t have to listen to us, but we shall compel them to listen to us through community engagement.”

Councilwoman Robinson said not only is it imperative that the community join the discussion now; it’s also important for the Board of Police Commissioners to give residents a platform to voice their opinions. “We have to start in the beginning and not be inserted at the end,” Robinson said.

Ad Hoc President Damon Daniel said the police commissioners should hold community forums in all six council districts.

“I think that would show, even though we don’t have local control, that would at least show that those commissioners are really committed to hearing from the community and making sure that their voices are represented in this process,” said Daniel.

Panelists discussed if the best choice for the next chief might come from outside the department. McDonald said KCPD had not promoted enough Black women to positions that would enable them to be considered for the top job. Mayor Quinton Lucas, who joined the discussion, suggested that KCPD's culture may have kept some officers from climbing the ranks.

“There probably are some talented folks who have been within the department for a while, who may not have seen themselves rise in the same way, if they got on the wrong side of the regime, and I say that with respect to everybody and anybody there,” he said.

Lucus said he hopes the police board will listen to people who are “representative of our communities.” He also noted that Smith may retire before his permanent replacement is on the job.

“Another conversation that we need to have that is actually actively ongoing right now, who will be the interim chief? Because there are issues and things and all of this sort of stuff happening right now that we need to make sure we're a part of right now," said Lucas.

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