© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas City Police Chief Smith disbands missing persons unit after city increases police funding

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith listens to public comments during a 2020 Police Board Commission meeting.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith listens to public comments during a 2020 Police Board Commission meeting.

Police Chief Rick Smith cited staffing shortages in the department as his reason for disbanding the Missing Persons Cold Case Squad.

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith has disbanded the Missing Persons Cold Case Squad days before he officially retires from the department and weeks after the Kansas City Council approved a $269 million budget for the KCPD.

Smith made the announcement Monday night at a South Kansas City Alliance meeting. He said he disbanded the unit two weeks ago, citing a shortage of detectives in the department. The detectives working on the squad were moved to homicide and other squads.

Responding on Twitter, Mayor Quinton Lucas said he was concerned that Smith made the decision without a public vote or any discussion by the Board of Police Commissioners. He called it a “disservice to victims’ families.”

Lucas added he will seek to reverse the decision with the Board of Police Commissioners.

“I cannot fathom why command staff at the eleventh hour would eliminate this vital area of crime fighting and send a signal to hundreds of Kansas Citians that we are giving up on justice for their loved ones,” Lucas tweeted.

Donna Drake, a spokeswoman for the KCPD, said in an email that the bulk of staffing will be used to ensure that new cases are being investigated, adding that the duties of the Missing Persons Cold Case Squad “remain in existence.”

“This in no way takes away from the capabilities of investigators to investigate and follow up on fresh leads in ‘cold cases,’” Drake said. “No case will go un-worked when information supports follow-up or new investigation.”

Smith’s decision came just days before his scheduled retirement from the KCPD on April 22. He will be replaced by Deputy Chief Joseph Maybin, who will serve on an interim basis.

It also came after the city council approved a $269 million budget for the KCPD for the 2022-2023 fiscal year — well above the 20% of general revenues required by Missouri law. The budget includes $33 million to increase officer salaries and hire more officers.

The KCPD, which currently has 1,144 law enforcement officers, has faced staffing shortages in recent years. That’s well below the full-time positions the department has budgeted for the coming fiscal year.

Smith cited the department’s staff shortages last month in his plea to the council to approve the additional $33 million fund. He told the Board of Police Commissioners that he has had to ask officers to take on more overtime hours.

Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw said she was shocked to hear that Smith had disbanded the missing persons unit. She said it was particularly galling coming after the council passed the police budget.

“I think it's definitely concerning given that we have so many unsolved murders, homicides that happen in Kansas City,” she said. “It's gonna be even more of a delay for those to be solved.”

Parks-Shaw said that while she understands the need to ensure there are enough patrol officers, she wonders if a different decision could have been made.

Gwen Grant, president of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, called the move “unconscionable.” She said disbanding the missing persons unit will exacerbate the lack of trust between the KCPD and members of the community, particularly Black residents.

A recent investigation by The Kansas City Star showed that while most homicide and shooting victims are Black, their families are often questioned by white detectives. Only 9% of homicide detectives in the KCPD are Black, and data from the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office show that Black families are less likely to have their cases solved than white families.

“This is exactly why we told him his ordinance was a mistake,” Grant said, referring to the mayor’s ordinance establishing the $33 million fund for the KCPD. “It shows the city can't trust the police department. It certainly verifies beyond a reasonable doubt that KCPD cannot be trusted.”

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.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.