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Kansas City Police Board names KCPD veteran Stacey Graves as chief after much-criticized search

Stacey Graves, a woman in a police uniform, stands in front of the four members of the Board of Police Commissioners inside a Kansas City hearing room.
Peggy Lowe
Stacey Graves, an acting deputy chief in the Kansas City Police Department, was one of three finalists for the chief's job. She's been with the department for more than 25 years.

The Board of Police Commissioners selected Acting Deputy Chief Stacey Graves, who's been with the department for more than 25 years, to lead the Kansas City Police Department. Activists — and even Mayor Quinton Lucas — criticized the hiring process for lacking transparency and community input.

Kansas City Police veteran Stacey Graves was sworn in as chief of police Thursday after the Board of Police Commissioners selected her during a closed door meeting.

Graves, just the third woman to hold the top cop job, is the 48th chief in KCPD's 148-year history. KCPD has not hired a chief from outside the department since 1973.

Two women have served as interim KCPD chief in the past, but Graves is the first female to get the position permanently, a milestone she hopes will inspire girls who aspire to a law enforcement career.

“This is my city. And to be the first female police chief in my city, is just…," Graves said, trailing off. "I have no words.”

Both of Kansas City's top public safety jobs are now held by women. Donna Lake took over as chief of the Kansas City Fire Department in 2019. Lake said Graves' promotion was "exciting."

"It's a testament to the strong women in leadership that we have in our community," Lake said. "I'm really excited to have a co-person in public safety at the top that is a woman."

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker also noted the historic appointment in a statement.

"We should acknowledge that the board has named its first permanent woman chief in nearly 150 years," Baker said. "As always, we welcome any partnership that comes from law enforcement agencies in our community."

But Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, called the hiring of Graves "unconscionable." Grant has long advocated for the KCPD to be placed under the control of city leaders instead of a board appointed by the Missouri governor.

"This decision indicates they are 100% committed to perpetuating the status quo," Grant said. "This is yet another indication that this state-appointed board is not representative of our community and it is not committed to acting in our best interests. Maybe this will be the catalyst for all sectors of our community to come together to get local control."

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

Activists were angry that the board held just one public meeting and appeared to ignore community input. Members of the Public Safety Coalition, a group of 16 business, civic and faith groups led by the KC Chamber, said Thursday that while they were critical of the hiring process, they congratulated Graves.

In a statement, the coalition mentioned that Graves attended several of their listening sessions — it held seven,releasing a reportin May that said city residents wanted a chief to reduce in violent crime, engage with the community and openly communicate all news.

"We appreciate the fact that she referenced our coalition report several times in her appearance at last Saturday’s police board community engagement session, and the fact that her statements to date reflect many of the points made in that report — a focus on combating the city’s violence, open communication, a determination to have a department that is inclusive and embraces diversity," the statement said.

Graves inherits a troubled department that is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for alleged racist hiring practices, has seen a spate of controversial shootings by police that triggered high payouts, and is short-staffed as it struggles to retain and recruit employees.

Just this week, the board said it will hire an outside investigator to look into a former KCPD attorney's explosive whistleblower case that alleges the department's legal staff unethically funneled criminal case evidence and violated the state's public records law.

And yet the department, the only police force in the U.S. that is not under local control, has considerable support and funding. In November, Missouri voters passed Amendment 4, which will increase the portion of the city budget spent on police.

Five people sit at a long table with microphones at the front of a meeting room. On the far left is a woman in a suit. To her right is another woman in police uniform, Stacey Graves, and three men also in police uniform.
Peggy Lowe
Acting Deputy Chief Stacey Graves, center, sits next to General Counsel Holly Dodge, left, before the start of Tuesday’s Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners meeting.

Graves told reporters Thursday that she will face these controversies "like an open book."

“I will be that front-facing communicator that this city wants and needs," she said. "And if there’s something that we’re doing wrong, then the motto, ‘Mess up, fess, move on.’ And the ‘move on’ isn’t forget about it. It’s learn from it and move forward in a better way.”

Graves, who grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, is married to KCPD Captain Danny Graves. They live in northern Kansas City. Graves said she will leave the decision as to whether her husband stays in the department up to him.

She started her KCPD career in 1997 and worked her way up from patrol to detective, then served as an aide to former police chief Darryl Forté. Graves was promoted to major and served as a division commander at the Shoal Creek Patrol Division in Kansas City, North. Most recently, she's headed the department’s program to assign social workers to each of the six patrol divisions.

Graves earned a bachelor's degree in administration of justice from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1997, according to her LinkedIn profile, and an Executive Master of Business Administration from Benedictine College in 2011.

The candidates made their cases to the public at a meeting last Saturday, where they addressed recruitment and retention concerns, community policing and rising rates of gun violence.

Graves said her top three priorities for the department 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 with, among other things, higher pay.

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.”

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. Activists criticized the search for Smith's successor, calling it "fixed" to favor Graves.

Graves, still sitting on stage, tried to reach out to the protestors, saying, “I do see you. I do hear you.”

“Please give me a chance," Graves said.

On Thursday, Amaia Cook of Decarcerate KC, one of the activists who interrupted the Saturday meeting, said Graves proved during that meeting that she will not seriously address the deep-rooted racism in KCPD. The department needs to completely reimagine how it keeps residents safe, Cook said.

"What we need is an overhaul of the concept of public safety in Kansas City, one that is informed by and serves the needs of the community," Cook said. "This means investing in resources that actually benefit the community, like affordable housing, mental health, and public health."

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.
Madeline Fox is the assistant news director for KCUR. Email me at madeline@kcur.org.
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