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Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith announces he will retire in April, after controversial tenure

Police Chief gesturing while talking at a podium. Department of Justice flag in the background.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Rick Smith talks during an Operation LeGend update when then-Attorney General William Barr visited Kansas City in 2020.

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners on Friday announced that the interim chief will be Deputy Chief Joe Mabin, a 22-year veteran of the force.

Rick Smith — the Kansas City, Missouri, Police chief whose nearly five years in the top job were marked by a criticized response to the Black Lives Matter protests and the conviction of an officer for killing a Black man — announced Friday that he will retire on April 22.

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners on Friday voted in as interim chief Joe Mabin, a Black 22-year veteran of the force who currently is a deputy chief heading up the investigation bureau.

The board — which never publicly called for Smith's ouster but arranged last November for an early retirement behind closed doors — made the decision in a unanimous vote, said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas.

"We are confident that the Department will be in good hands during this interim period while we engage with the community in the process of hiring a new Chief," the board said in a press release.

In a press conference Friday, Lucas said the board was impressed by Mabin’s more than two decades of service.

“We look forward to continuing to build strong community relations, to stand up for the women and men of law enforcement and to continue to improve, I think, our relations both with city county, city hall and with everyone in our community,” Lucas said.

Mabin will start as interim chief on April 23. Lucas added that Mabin does not plan on applying to the permanent chief position.

"Thus, this is truly an interim position," reads board's statement.

 Joe Mabin, a 22-year veteran of the force who currently heads up the investigation bureau, was named the interim chief of Kansas City Police. Mabin will begin on April 23.
Kansas City Police
Joe Mabin, a 22-year veteran of the force who currently heads up the investigation bureau, was named the interim chief of Kansas City Police. Mabin will begin on April 23.

'Good riddance'

In a short release announcing his retirement, Smith characterized himself as a young officer from Minnesota who committed to Kansas City, and that serving as chief was his “greatest professional honor.”

“I got married here, I raised a family here, and I will retire here in less than a month, as a proud Kansas Citian,” Smith wrote. “My heart and soul will always be with KCPD. Thank you Kansas City and thank you KCPD.”

Friday's announcement brought a quick — but expected — end to Smith's time at the top law enforcement job.

"Good riddance," said Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. "We are delighted to hear that Rick Smith's reign over KCPD is coming to an end."

Lucas, who is a member of the five-member Board of Police Commissioners, thanked Smith in a tweet for "his many dedicated years of service to the Kansas City Police Department and the women and men who every day work to protect and serve Kansas Citians."

Another community group, MORE2, said it was "delighted at the opportunity for new leadership."

"Chief Smith was a chief who protected bad cops at the expense public safety, specifically harming Black and brown communities," said Winston Bowles, a MORE2 organizer.

Public criticism of Smith came to a head in December, when a video surfaced where Smith could be heard calling a Black man just killed by an officer the “bad guy.”

That video was recorded on Dec. 3, 2019, after Kansas City Police responded to the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Cameron Lamb by detective Eric DeValkenaere. A judge on Nov. 19, 2021, convicted DeValkenaere of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in Lamb's shooting. Earlier this month, DeValkenaere was sentencedto six years in prison, although he remains free on bond while he appeals.

A frame grab from the Dec. 3 2019 dashcam video of the day Cameron Lamb was shot and killed. On the video, Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith can be heard saying, "The bad guy is dead."
A frame grab from the Dec. 3 2019 dashcam video of the day Cameron Lamb was shot and killed. On the video, Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith can be heard saying, "The bad guy is dead."

In November, some suggested that Smith was being forced out by the board, but Smith said he was “not going anywhere.” Just days later, the board said Smith would retire in the spring, and that he “remains in good standing.”

Many had demanded Smith step down nearly from the beginning of his tenure as chief, in part because of the city’s high homicide rate. But the loudest calls came from minority communities, who last July called for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the department. In a 15-page letter to the DOJ, Grant and other leaders called for the feds to look into the KCPD's high rate of violence against Black and Latino people, racist hiring practices and the department's lack of local control.

That effort was supported by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who said KCPD has "no accountability to our community." Baker has long been at odds with Smith, in part because she said his department wouldn't cooperate with investigations into police shootings.

In March, the Heartland Presbytery, a large regional church group, called on the police board to fire Smith, citing his refusal to work with independent excessive force investigations, a lack of trust with the Black community, and his inability to bring racial diversity to the police force.

When debate over Smith's job performance wasn't front and center, the public conversation moved to KCPD's budget. Last May, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas tried to get some small measure of local control over the budget with a measure he pushed through City Council.

The plan, which a judge overturned in October, called for the city and police to negotiate more on spending that would promote violence prevention and better public safety.

But police funding was never in jeopardy, despite claims of "defunding" from Smith and the police union. This week, the City Council passed a budget that included $269 million for the police department, above the 20% minimum that's required by Missouri law.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith talk during an Operation LeGend update in August 2020.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith talk during an Operation LeGend update in August 2020.

Searching for a new chief

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners has not yet chosen a firm to lead the search for a new police chief, Lucas said.

The mayor added that there is no set deadline yet on when to fill the position.

“I think the expectation for the board is that this interim chief will be involved in much of our budget discussion, which actually starts earlier than most would think,” Lucas said. “And so that's why we thought this was an important position to have.”

Following a week of debates within council on how much to fund the police, and how much control to exert over their budget, Lucas said he thinks the city and the department are making progress.

“We're on the right path in terms of how we work together, how we ensure accountability, how we look out for the best interest of our community,” he said. “But also how we're responsible with a budget that hires enough officers on our streets, invests in community engagement, 911-call takers, that the people of Kansas city want and deserve.”

Lucas further described Mabin as someone who collaborated well with city officials and previous prosecutors.

“I think we're in a position where we can have everybody collaborating,” Lucas said. “And I hope that that continues.”

Local civil rights organizations have called on the city to make the search for a new police chief a collaborative effort, in which residents can provide input and have more of a say in the city’s next police leader.

Beginning on Tuesday, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, along with other local groups, will host public listening sessions over the next month where residents can share what they want to see in the next police chief.

Conversations from those sessions will then be presented to the Board of Police Commissioners. The events will take place on these dates:

  • Tuesday, March 29: 6 p.m.–8 p.m., Northland Neighborhoods Inc., 5340 NE Chouteau Trafficway
  • Saturday, April 2: 10 a.m.–12 p.m., Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center, 3700 Blue Parkway
  • Saturday, April 2: 10 a.m.– 12 p.m., Evangel Church, 1414 E. 103rd St.
  • Wednesday, April 6: 6 p.m.– 8 p.m., Mattie Rhodes Cultural Center, 1701 Jarboe St. (Bilingual)
  • Thursday, April 7: 6 p.m.– 8 p.mm, Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, 2657 Independence Ave. (Multilingual)
  • Thursday, April 14: 3:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m., KC Chamber Board Room, 1st floor of Union Station
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.
As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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