By Paul Thompson
Rick Smith has made quite the impression on the Board of Police Commissioners.
Less than 24 hours after participating in a public forum with fellow Police Chief finalist Keith Humphrey – the current head of Norman, Oklahoma Police Department – KCPD’s Central Patrol Division Commander was named as Kansas City’s next Chief of Police.
The two finalists spent roughly two hours answering questions from the public during the July 27 public forum at KCPD’s downtown headquarters. The Board of Police Commissioners (BOPC) reconvened on Friday morning to begin discussing which candidate should succeed Darryl Forté as the next Chief of Police. Former Deputy Chief David Zimmerman has been serving as interim Chief since Forté retired in May of 2017.
“They had a long meeting today – they started deliberating early this morning,” Sgt. Kari Thompson of the KCPD Media Unit said of the BOPC. “They did make the decision pretty quickly today to have a press conference.”
Thompson added that Smith will be officially installed as the Police Chief on Tuesday, August 15, and that the department’s new leader will likely have substantial control over who replaces him at Central Patrol.
“The Chief of Police typically has a say in all personnel matters,” Thompson said.
Smith and Humphrey tackled a variety of questions during the public forum, discussing topics such as new tactics they would implement in the department, how to best combat violent crime and drive-by shootings, the best ways police departments can leverage technology, the importance of creating partnerships with the LGBT community, potential strategies for recruiting for minority officers to the department, and what each candidate’s biggest regrets were in their respective careers.
When asked how he would improve methods of policing in the police department, Smith spoke at length about the position he created at Central Patrol Division – Social Services Coordinator. Smith said that Gina English, who is the social worker serving in the role, has had an immensely positive impact on the individuals she has encountered since beginning her role in late 2016. One example Smith cited is English’s work on The Plaza; she spent time there this spring surveying teenagers ahead of the annual summer curfew. While Smith said that 18 kids were cited for violating the curfew during its first week, there have been few problems since.
English went so far as to follow up with the judge to ensure that those 18 sets of parents and guardians who were hit with $125 curfew violation tickets could attend a class with their teenager to wipe off the fine. Smith said that more than half of the parents took up English on the offer, and argued that there are some law enforcement issues that can be better handled by a Social Services Coordinator.
“For years, everyone knows that the police have been down there chasing kids off The Plaza,” Smith said.
In response to a question about the Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KC NoVA), Smith was forthright about the strengths and weaknesses of the program. He likes the collaboration, the intelligence-gathering methods, the social services component and the focused deterrence strategy of policing. He was quick to point out, however, that the alliance is not perfect. In particular, Smith cited the call-ins – where NoVA partners invite violent group members to meetings to offer them social services and warn them against committing further offenses – as one tactic that needs some re-configuring.
“I think we might have to look at another way to reach people; it may not be in a call-in setting,” Smith said. “I like the premise that we’re trying to give a warning up front, I just don’t know that the implementation is correct.”
Smith also spoke out against the 90-day wait time that NoVA implements before enforcing violent crimes.
“I don’t think we should wait 90 days for anything; if there’s a crime problem in this city, it needs to be addressed,” Smith said. “We should stop crime when we have the opportunity to intercede. If someone’s going to be out there committing crime, and we have evidence to work or places to go with that investigation, we should get on it immediately.”
When asked about the biggest regret of his 29-year career with KCPD, Smith provided a thoughtful anecdote about a hard lesson he learned as a young Captain. After being confronted with an employee involved in misconduct, Smith wrote up the individual. His letter got lost in the shuffle, though, and the employee ended up coming back to work with the department. That individual was eventually found committing similar violations, leading Smith to wonder whether he could have been more forceful in his assessment of the ‘bad apple.’
“Now, I would have demanded more action. I think the regret is, and everyone learns as they go along, but I should have stuck to my guns a little harder with my superiors,” Smith said. “The hardest part is to pick out the bad apples and make sure that they’re not bad apples in police uniforms.”
In another exchange, Smith drew smiles from the crowd when he was asked what the public can do to help law enforcement do their jobs.
“Law abiding really helps,” Smith said with a laugh. “The most important thing you can do is to have a picnic or a social event to get your neighbors out and know who they are.”