After 33 years with the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD), Officer Greg Smith retired last week. For the past six years, he has served as the Community Interaction Officer (CIO) at East Patrol Division (EPD), acting as the face of the department in neighborhoods at community meetings and events, and collaborating with nonprofits and citizens.
While he was initially a little nervous, while counting down the final days he was excited and felt like time was dragging.
Smith grew up in the EPD zone, attending church, elementary and high school here. When his brother signed up to take the entrance exam, Smith tagged along and decided to take it, as well. He passed the test and joined the force in 1986. Smith spent his entire career at EPD, which encompasses Northeast and Kansas City’s East Side.
In the police academy, Smith did six ride-alongs as part of his training, getting to experience Metro Patrol, Shoal Creek Patrol, Central Patrol and East Patrol. He remembers EPD being the station where he wanted to go, but he didn’t know they were going to assign him to his neighborhood station for his break-in period.
“When I got assigned to East Patrol, believe it or not, I lived at 27th and Van Brunt in the apartments next to that 7-Eleven,” Smith said. “I used to walk less than half a block to work.”
With the ongoing debate about residency requirements for the city’s first responders, Smith said he understands why people in his line of work would want the freedom to live in other municipalities, especially for schools and safety reasons. However, he said he hasn’t encountered any problems living in the area he policed for so many years.
“Everybody knew me, I know some people who were probably not outstanding, but they were always great neighbors,” Smith said. “I think it all depends on how you carry yourself. I’ve always had the saying, ‘Don’t let the uniform make you, you make the uniform.’”
Over the years, Northeast has changed a lot and become a little more violent, Smith said. He said although there used to be gangs, like the 9th Street Dogs, there weren’t as many shootings and homicides. However, despite that, he is impressed with residents who continue to maintain positive lifestyles and grow.
“The Northeast in itself has always maintained its historical stigma to where the beauty of some of the houses, it’s always been a multicultural area ever since I was growing up,” Smith said. “Northeast has maintained that, I think Northeast has done an excellent job of doing that, welcoming different cultures in the area.”
During his time as a CIO, KCPD hired social workers under the direction of Chief of Police Rick Smith when he was the major at Center Patrol. Social workers take some of the load off of officers that are not so much police related so they can focus on their job duties, CIO Smith said. They respond to calls with officers to help with longer term solutions – like the many social service and nonprofit organizations in Northeast. CIO Smith viewed them as a positive supplement to his work.
“A lot of people we help are not homeless, but they still need those resources,” Smith said. “We work a lot with those entities to help provide for those people. Those entities, those resources are an extension to us, and they are a big help and we really want to thank those who have helped over the years and continue to help us.”
When people become a victim, they’re at their worst at that time, Smith said. His father, who passed away in 1993, told him when he joined the department, “Son, if you’re going to do this job, make sure you treat everybody right.” Those words have always stuck with him.
“I’ve always had a knack for interacting with people, I think I get that from my mother and my grandfathers,” Smith said. “I like helping people. That’s the biggest thing on this job for me and that’s what I try to teach some of the younger officers. The main focus is to help people. That’s why that ‘protect and serve’ is there.”
Growing up in the East Patrol zone, Smith said his childhood wasn’t bad or hard, but he recognizes that times have changed and it has given him an understanding of what people are going through, which has made him more sensitive to people in general.
Although in 2020 retirements look a little different – no ceremonies, goodbye parties or handshakes – it is apparent that Smith will be missed at East Patrol.
“It’s somewhat unprecedented to have someone with 32 years spend that entire time at East Patrol Division, but I think that’s a testament to Greg,” EPD Major Doug Niemeier said. “He grew up in this community and he served for over 32 years in the community. Personally – I’ve been on 25 years – I don’t know if that’s ever been done.”
Niemeier said anyone who has been in a career so long would have a hard time letting go. He said people don’t realize that when one becomes a KCPD officer, the job becomes who they are. Although he knows he’s close, Niemeier doesn’t want to think about how he’ll react when it’s his time to retire.
The two have known each other since Niemeier joined the department in 1995. Niemeier returned to East Patrol a year and a half ago as major, and he estimates that Smith has served the longest at a single station in the department.
“Fast forward to 2020, or actually 2019, now I’m the major at East Patrol and Greg’s still here,” Niemeier said. “You know, it was comforting for someone in my position to come in and know Greg and know how much he’s put into this community, how much he’s put into East Patrol. There’s not an officer on this department that’s worked East Patrol, wherever they’re at now, that doesn’t know they can call Greg. He is a hub of information, and a hub of networking. He literally knows everyone… that’s who he is and he’s done a fantastic job, really, not just with police work but helping people in East Patrol.”
Though it was a hard choice, Smith preferred the CIO role because he had more time to invest in the community and see specific projects through to the end. He has enjoyed partnering with schools, clergy, community groups and neighborhoods. He said most of the feedback he has received about the department has been positive.
“It’s going to be hard because it’s hard leaving people you’ve been working with for years, and neighborhood people in the Northeast and on the East Side of town, I’ve gotten to know them over the years,” Smith said.
Smith’s replacement, CIO Patrick Byrd, is a 25-year veteran who Niemeier said is very familiar with East Patrol. He’s been working the evening CIO shift here since the department added a second position.
“Did I accomplish everything that I wanted while I was here? No, but I feel that each day you accomplish more and more, and more, so I feel that he’s going to continue that on and I’m pretty positive about it,” Smith said.
He describes Byrd as a knowledgeable, good officer who knows a lot about the community. He has worked with KC No Violence Alliance (NoVA) and as a School Resource Officer at Central High School.
“It’s always going to be difficult to replace somebody who’s given 32 years to a job, but the nice thing that we have going now that we have two CIOs thanks to our police chief, is the transition will be much easier, meaning Byrd can come from the PM shift, take over the day shift, and then I have several people that have already put in to take the open CIO position,” Niemeier said, adding that it will be filled after the first of the year.
Looking back on Smith’s consistent commitment to the neighborhoods in which he was raised, Niemeier said he envisions a return to officers living in their patrol zones as young families search for affordable housing in “up-and-coming” Kansas City neighborhoods.