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Kansas City residents say next chief should have ‘no problem’ shaking up KCPD

Community members at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center talk about the qualities they want to see in the next Kansas City Police Department head. 5th District Councilman at-Large Lee Barnes, Jr. was in attendance. He is pictured here, sitting in the center.
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Community members at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center talk about the qualities they want to see in the next Kansas City Police Department head. 5th District Councilman at-Large Lee Barnes, Jr., center, was in attendance.

Residents gathered on Kansas City's east side called for a police chief who would spend time in majority-Black communities and take bold steps to dismantle racism within the department. 

Residents of Kansas City’s east side say the next leader of the Kansas City Police Department should prioritize spending time in their communities.

Community members gathered Saturday morning at Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center to discuss what they want in the next chief of police. The majority-Black crowd said they want a chief that looks like them, lives in or spends time engaging with their neighborhoods and someone who isn’t afraid to call out or own up to wrongdoings in the police department.

Da-Nearle Clarke, owner of Clarke and Sons Funeral Home, said he wants the next police chief to introduce him or herself to urban core communities who suffer from higher rates of violent crime than other areas. Clarke said the next police chief of the Kansas City Police Department needs to walk through neighborhoods, show up at community events and even go door-to-door to really get to know the people who live there.

“If the community has someone that they can lean towards and rely on, actually build a relationship with, I believe the city can be a lot safer,” said Clarke.

Clarke’s father, Pat Clarke, said because of the police brutality Black Kansas Citians face, he wants a chief who is willing to eliminate bias in the department, someone who is unafraid of calling out officers in the wrong.

“Going forward, we're gonna definitely need somebody that can pick up the pieces where we're broken and continue to strive for success in Kansas City,” said Pat Clarke.

Pat Clarke, who is executive director and president of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association, said Black communities like his own are suffering from bad policing and high crime and murder rates.

“We just had a homicide here a month ago, you know, where a guy was killed on his porch, mom thrown on the ground. And she's disabled. I mean, what kind of excessive force is that?” Clarke said, referring to Shawn Wilson, who was shot on his mother’s porch by police in early February. Police say Wilson was armed with a knife, although his mother denies having seen a knife, according to the Kansas City Star. Wilson later died from his injuries.

“It's not just happening in the Black neighborhood, but the Black neighborhood is the one that's suffering from it,” said Pat Clarke. “So bringing in a police chief who has no problem with creating a sensitivity training, you know, somebody that's saying, ‘Oh, I don't have to be hard knocked every day’. No, you don't, but you have to be sensitive to the people that you serve.”

Residents split over whether new chief should come from outside the department

Another topic discussed at the event was whether or not the next leader of the police department should come from within the force.

Steve Young is an organizer of Friday Night Protest, a group that gathers every Friday outside the Kansas City Police Department headquarters to protest police brutality and call for justice for victims. Young was spokesperson for his table at the listening session. He said he and the people at his table hope to see a leader recruited from outside the department.

“Right now, KCPD has so many issues. I would not trust somebody who came up in the ranks who’s gonna be my chief of police. I can’t trust it,” said Young, eliciting applause from the crowd.

“We need somebody from the outside who can come in and see what’s happening, and actually do a whole clean up. Because there’s a lot of officers who are continuing to traumatize our neighborhoods, officers like Blayne Newton,” he said.

Newton has been involved in three high-profile cases of excessive force, including the shooting of an unarmed Black man in 2020.

Resident Gloria Haley, however, disagreed. She said she thinks the next chief needs to be an officer in Kansas City.

“If you’re here in the city, I think you know a lot about what’s going on. I think you’d be advanced because you are in the know,” said Hailey.

Young said as a part of community engagement, the next police chief should make monthly Board of Police Commissioner meetings more accessible. He said meetings should take place in the evenings, instead of weekday mornings, so more residents can attend. He also said the meetings should be held in community buildings instead of the police department headquarters.

“We don’t like to be at police headquarters, it’s traumatic," said Young, who added that many in the Black community avoid those spaces.

Next chief should push for local control of the department

Several community members said they hoped the next chief of police would push for local control of the department. Currently, KCPD is overseen by a five-member Board of Police Commissioners, composed of Mayor Quinton Lucas and four other members appointed by the Missouri governor. Many attendees said they want more say in what happens with the police department.

Da-Nearle Clarke, who also serves as 7th Ward Committeeman of the Jackson County Democratic Committee, said he wishes residents could vote on the next police chief instead of being limited to listening sessions.

"My thoughts on that is, just like we elect our sheriff (in Jackson County), I believe the people should be able to elect the police chief as well. We should take that totally out the government's hands."

The Chamber of Commerce will host three more listening sessions this month:

  • 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
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga reports on health disparities in access and health outcomes in both rural and urban areas.
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