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Three finalists named for Kansas City police chief, but community leader calls process 'fixed'

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Peggy Lowe
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KCUR 89.3
A Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners meeting in July 2021.

Public safety activists are "incredibly disappointed" that the board is holding just one public meeting to introduce the finalists.

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners announced the three finalists for chief on Monday, drawing criticism for a lack of transparency and little community input into the process.

A year after the board negotiated embattled Chief Rick Smith’s exit, it announced that it had narrowed the candidates to Kansas City Police Acting Deputy Chief Stacey Graves, Inspector DeShawn Beaufort of the Philadelphia Police Department and retired Lieutenant Colonel Scott Ebner of the New Jersey State Police.

Darron Edwards, lead pastor of United Believers Community Church, said it’s obvious that Graves is the board’s preferred choice. Edwards said he met with Bishop Mark Tolbert, the board president, and Mayor Quinton Lucas, who is also on the board, in October, and “the statement was made then that the least likely has now become the top candidate.”

“So they've known since October that Stacey Graves was possibly going to be the next chief of police,” Edwards said. “And when you think about all of the national attention to come into Kansas City, Stacey Graves is a good fit to be paraded around as the first female top cop in Kansas City history.”

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Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners
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Stacey Graves, an acting deputy chief in the Kansas City Police Department, is one of three finalists for the chief's job. She's been with the department for more than 25 years.

Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Kansas City, said she asked Tolbert at an Urban Summit meeting in October if the board would be willing to reopen the search if the community found the finalists to be unacceptable. He replied "yes," she said.

"Why would we have any confidence in his response when the (board) has a track record of turning a deaf ear to interests, concerns, and wishes of those of us who fund the KCPD?" she said. "Furthermore, how are we to believe they would take our concerns to heart when they have ignored the input of hundreds of Kansas Citians who participated in community input sessions over the past several months?"

The police board also announced Monday that it would hold just one town hall meeting to meet the three finalists, set for Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Mohart Center, 3200 Wayne Ave., in the Midtown neighborhood.

Although the board called its search and recruitment “exhaustive,” community members quickly criticized the board for the single public meeting. The Public Safety Coalition, a group of 16 business, civic, and faith groups organized by the Kansas City Chamber, said in a statement that it is “incredibly disappointed” that there will be just one meeting.

“Coalition members are unhappy that only one session will be held in one part of the city,” the statement said. “Coalition members from the Northland, South Kansas City, and West Side were particularly concerned that their areas of the city are not being included in the process to hire someone for one of the most important jobs in our community.”

The Public Safety Coalition held seven listening sessions and did online surveys, releasing a report in May that said city residents wanted a chief to reduce in violent crime, engage with the community and openly communicate all news.

Interim Police Chief Joseph Mabin was appointed in April following Smith’s formal announcement of his retirement.

Smith’s four-year tenure as chief was marked by street protests that turned violent with police clashes, high homicide rates and calls for his resignation. After a Kansas City Star investigation into allegations of racism against its officers, the U.S. Department of Justice in September announced an investigation into the department’s hiring practices.

Beaufort, a 25-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, had risen to the No. 3 position on the force until he was demoted in May 2021 for a road rage incident, according to a report in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Ebner spent 27 years with the New Jersey State Police, where he is named in two ongoing lawsuits alleging unfair and discriminatory hiring practices, according to The Denver Post. The newspaper also reported that Aurora, a Denver suburb, passed on Ebner for the chief’s job in October.

The police board's statement said the search firm received applications from 21 people during the six week period the job was open, and 11 were people of color or women. Two withdrew early in the process, the statement said.

The finalists' histories show that Kansas City did a lackluster search, Edwards said, and it reveals that the process was “fixed” to choose Graves.

“You did a national search, you spent all of this taxpayer money, and the candidates of choice from external can be not considered by a simple Google search,” Edwards said. “You don't have to look hard to find negative marks on these guys.”

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.
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