© 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 targeted minority neighborhoods to meet illegal ticket quotas, lawsuit says

A police officer riding a motorcycle is shown driving away from the camera. The motorcycle's red and blue lights are flashing. The police officer appears to be pulling over a rust-colored Dodge SUV.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A Kansas City Police motorcycle officer pulls over a vehicle on Hwy 71 in this file photo from July 2021.

The lawsuit filed by a KCPD officer places blame for quotas and racist patrol tactics on former Chief Rick Smith. Current Chief Stacey Graves says she will remind traffic division to “operate and enforce laws appropriately.”

Kansas City Police leaders allegedly ordered officers to target minority neighborhoods to meet ticket quotas — telling them to be “ready to kill everybody in the car” — and to only respond to calls for help in white neighborhoods.

Edward Williams, a 44-year-old white KCPD officer and 21-year veteran of the force, filed a discrimination lawsuit in Jackson County Court this week including those and other allegations. Williams said he’s faced retaliation because he’s been a whistleblower, is disabled and is over 40.

Williams’s suit said that contrary to Missouri law, KCPD “continuously and repeatedly” told officers that if they didn’t meet their ticket quotas they would be kicked out of the traffic unit and sent to “dogwatch,” an unpopular overnight shift typically worked by those with low seniority.

“This directive came straight from the then-Chief of Police Richard Smith,” he alleged in the suit.

Smith’s rocky term as chief lasted from 2017 through 2022, when he was forced into retirement. Smith was criticized for stonewalling cases of excessive force against people of color and his militarized reaction to #BlackLivesMatter protests.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation into alleged racist hiring practices in KCPD in December 2022. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker earlier wrote a public letter saying KCPD had lost the community’s trust that excessive force cases would be stopped.

Current Chief Stacey Graves issued a statement Wednesday reacting to Williams’ claims, saying the department is dedicated to equitable and fair policing and that she would remind the traffic division to “operate and enforce laws appropriately.”

“We do not direct enforcement activities based on demographics,” Graves wrote. “We do direct traffic enforcement in high crash locations as well as citizen traffic complaint locations.”

Williams, a motorcycle patrol officer, said he made several complaints about the disabilities he acquired on the job — including injuries to his left knee and back, 40 percent hearing loss in both ears and surgery on his left shoulder after he was hit by a car while on the job.

Williams is seeking monetary damages because he said he was discriminated against for his disability, age and race. Williams, who is white, said command staff felt free to say racist statements to him because of his race — statements he said they would never make to minority officers.

“He is frequently stressed out, loses sleep, cannot focus, and is constantly fearful of what else might happen to him,” the suit says, “and is struggling to recover from the damage caused by the discriminatory and retaliatory treatment he received while employed at KCPD.”

Williams’ lawsuit claims that in 2018, Smith held a mandatory meeting in the traffic unit because the command staff noticed a drop in tickets. Although leaders acknowledged that ticket quotas were illegal, they set a requirement of 1,820 tickets annually for each officer, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit alleges “…all KCPD cared about was the money generated by the tickets issued,” and claims the practice continues today.

The lawsuit says that officers were told to go to minority neighborhoods to write tickets because it would be “easier to write multiple citations on every stop.” At the same time, command staff advised officers that they should “approach every car with the mindset to be ready to kill everybody in the car,” the suit says.

Command staff also allegedly told officers to only respond to calls in white neighborhoods in north and south Kansas City, “because those are the folks who are actually paying for the police,” the suit says. Officers were allegedly told to not respond to minority areas north of Bannister Road, west of Interstate 435 and south of the Missouri River, “because those people do not vote the same way as the people out south, east, and north,” the suit says.

Corrected: March 24, 2023 at 10:06 AM CDT
An earlier version of this story erroneously misstated Williams' current relationship with the KCPD. He is an officer on the force.
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.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.