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Northland residents say Kansas City's next police chief should be 'honest and forthright'

Man in suit, seated at right of a table, gestures while four people seated at left with back to camera listen.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith responds to questions from city council members on Thursday during a special meeting to discuss the 2022-23 police budget.

Residents gathered Tuesday to discuss the qualities they want to see in the next chief of police — transparency and community engagement were high on the list. Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith retires April 22.

Increased community engagement, more interaction with neighborhoods and better transparency with the public — these are some of the qualities that residents want to see in Kansas City’s next police chief, according to those who attended a listening session Tuesday night in the Northland.

Current Chief Rick Smith will officially retire from the KCPD on April 22.

Deputy Police Chief Joseph Mabin, who’s been with the KCPD for 22 years, will step in as interim chief of the department starting April 23 until the Board of Police Commissioners chooses a permanent replacement. Maybin told the board that he will not apply for the permanent position.

The discussion is the first of six community listening sessions taking place in the next few weeks to gather public input on the qualities they’d like to see in Kansas City’s next police chief. The sessions are hosted by a coalition of civic and business groups in the Kansas City area, and the collected comments will then be presented to the Board of Police Commissioners in late April.

At the event, attendees were split into small groups and answered questions around how the next police chief should approach transparency and accountability to the community.

Accountability, transparency, engagement

Whoever is chosen to fill Smith’s shoes will have to contend with a department that, in the eyes of many residents, has eroded trust with the Kansas City community. A series of high-profile police killings of Black men, years of high homicide numbers, allegations of racism within department ranks, scores of million-dollar settlements with victims of police violence and the conviction of an officer for killing a Black man have shaped Smith’s five-year tenure and created what many see as a department that eschews accountability and fails to serve the public.

Michael Chambers, a Northland resident who attended the event, said accountability should be one of the most important attributes in the new chief.

“Getting out in front of the public early and being honest and forthright is pretty key to success and to creating the kind of trust the chief needs with the community,” Chambers said.

Other residents said they wanted an increased police presence in the Northland. Some said that they don’t see a lot of officers in their area.

“It was felt that the chief should be active in all parts of the city,” said Pam Whiting, vice president of communications at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, summarizing the comments of her group. “The Northland often feels neglected, and that's challenging.”

Other attendees noted that the next police chief should have better communication with the mayor of Kansas City. While the city does not have local control over the police department, the mayor is the only elected official on the Board of Police Commissioners.

First District Councilwoman Heather Hall, whose district includes the Northland, attended the event. Hall said it was important for the next police chief to engage with constituents across the city.

“You can't just interact with Kansas City residents,” Hall said. “You have to interact with Gladstone residents and North Kansas city residents. And even though they might have different laws than we do, they have the same people.”

Hall was one of a few council members last year who did not support the mayor’s actions to move about $43 million of the KCPD’s budget under city control.

Recent KCPD Investigation and budget negotiations

The listening session comes on the heels of an investigation by The Kansas City Star into racism within the KCPD’s ranks. Black police officers told the Star they experienced racist bullying from coworkers and were unfairly treated during training. The story found that less than 12% of officers are Black, compared to 30% of Kansas City’s population, and at least 18 Black officers had quit due to discrimination at the department. The investigation was not directly addressed by anyone at Tuesday’s meeting.

The Kansas City Council recently approved a $269 million budget for the upcoming year for the KCPD — that amount goes over the funding threshold established by state law, which requires Kansas City to allocate 20% of its general revenues to the department. A portion of money is recruiting more minority officers.

Included in the department’s budget is a $33 million fund — overseen by the Board of Police Commissioners — for “community prevention and policing.” City council voted in favor of the fund last week, after debates over whether the money should be controlled by city council or the KCPD and Board of Police Commissioners. Much of the funding will be used to hire more officers to address the department’s low staffing numbers and increase salaries.

The police board has not yet set a specific deadline for hiring a new police chief, nor has the board chosen a firm to lead the search.

Mabin, who is Black, was announced as interim chief Friday. He will likely be involved in budget conversations for the following fiscal year.

The Chamber of Commerce will host five more listening sessions in April.

  • 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
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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