Kansas City Police chief candidates say they will work on homicide rate, curtailing racism
Protesters calling for local control of KCPD called the meeting a “scam” and said the Board of Police Commissioners were already set to choose a “puppet.”
Tackling the city’s high homicide rate, combating racism and a commitment to community policing.
The three candidates for Kansas City Police chief were interviewed in public on Saturday, mostly agreeing on anti-crime and pro-community initiatives, while vague on specifics to achieve the goals. They didn’t mention that Kansas City is the only U.S. city without local control of its police department, but activists did.
The Board of Police Commissioners, which is appointed by Missouri’s governor, announced the three finalists for the job last Monday and set a single open meeting to interview them.
Protesters chanting about local control interrupted the meeting, saying they were angry that this was the only public outing for the candidates during the months-long hiring process to replace now-retired Chief Rick Smith, who often had a combative relationship with activists.
Amaia Cook of Decarcerate KC stood up and shouted during KCPD Acting Deputy Chief Stacey Graves’ interview, saying they were promised four listening sessions. That was a lie, she said, making the forum a "scam” for the board to cover for their favorite candidate, Graves, who will be their “puppet.”
“We want justice. We want resources,” Cook said before being removed from the building. “We don’t want another spineless police chief who’s going to cover up for murderous cops.”
Graves, who sat calmly on stage while Mark Talbert, the board president, tried to quiet the activists, had already acknowledged the community criticism about a lack of transparency in the hiring process and tried to talk to the protesters.
“I do see you. I do hear you,” Graves said. “Please give me a chance.”
Along with Graves, the candidates include Inspector DeShawn Beaufort of the Philadelphia Police Department and retired Lt. Col. Scott Ebner of the New Jersey State Police. About 100 people showed up for the three hour event at the Mohart Center in Midtown.
Beaufort, the only Black candidate, was also the only one to bring up the current U.S. Department of Justice investigation into alleged racist hiring practices at KCPD. Whether the problem is perceived or real, he said, it’s a problem and it requires change.
He has experienced racism during his long processional career, as well as personally, Beaufort said. If hired, he would add an officer to his executive staff who works solely on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB), he said.
“I cannot stress to you enough: it’s not a bad agency. It’s just an agency that is at a precipice,” Beaufort said. “That’s the way that I like to look at it. We’re at a precipice, in policing and as an agency.”
Beaufort said his top three priorities as chief would be working to decrease gun violence, to engage with the community and to work on restoration of the public’s trust.
Graves said her top three priorities would be to build bridges across the city by holding “intentional” quarterly meetings, to address violent crime and to work on recruiting new officers and the retention of officers.
“We should be the highest paid police department in the region,” she said. “We are the largest police department, we are the premier agency. We should be paid as such.”
When asked about the city’s high homicide rate — Kansas City ranks in the top of U.S. cities for its violence, based on FBI and other surveys — Graves said it could be attributed to the inability to solve conflict. KCPD’s crime statistics show that the No. 1 contributing factor to homicides is an “argument.”
“The main cause of homicides in our city is the lack of conflict resolution,” she said. “I think that is something that should be taught in our schools, and I’m sure that in some places it already is.”
Alvin Brooks, a former KCPD officer and long-time community leader, wondered why the board hadn’t asked the candidates about plans for community policing. Cathy Dean, board vice chair, said they had in private interviews.
All three said they support the idea of community policing, a concept that recognizes that police can’t solve public safety problems alone and encourages community partnerships. Ebner said he would come up with solutions that involve all 240 neighborhoods in the city.
Ebner also said his top three priorities if hired as chief were building trust with the community, reducing violent crime and staffing of officers. Ebner said he flew into Kansas City on Friday and met with two KCPD divisions because he wanted the opinions of officers.
“The No. 1 thing they told me is we’re losing officers at a drastic rate and we can’t hire anyone,” Ebner said. “That has to be addressed because that seeps into every other requirement or every other priority that you’re going to have.”