Editorial

Police Chief Darryl Forté: ‘It’s everybody giving back from where you sit’

Updated: 2013-05-04T06:10:54Z

By LEWIS DIUGUID

The Kansas City Star

Darryl Forté has always felt the urgent rumble of the civil rights movement.

As a kid, he recalls this city like some others erupting in riots after the April 4, 1968, assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He now sees the civil rights pride, particularly from older African Americans, as they ask for his autograph, shake his hand, and smile with approval and joy.

Forté, Kansas City’s first African American police chief, knows that for decades in the black community, the police were not necessarily minorities’ friends and often were feared as enforcers of separate and unequal laws maintaining segregation, racism and discrimination.

“They had gone through dogs being turned on them and water hoses,” Forté, 51, said. His appointment to the top Police Department job in October 2011 after working his way up through the ranks represented a huge change.

For a lot of black Kansas Citians, it was a civil rights breakthrough. They feel a collective ownership in his job and a unique trust in him.

“I feel like I have a responsibility to them and everybody,” Forté said. “I just want to show people I am genuine and I care.”

The biggest civil rights trembler Forté feels is for the next 50 years. For the Police Department, it isn’t pretty, said Forté, who agreed to talk for this column series looking at 50 years of civil rights advances while sharing a vision for the next half century.

The racial and ethnic diversity on the force hasn’t changed much in 25 years despite a stated commitment to increase minority officers. There are 150 black officers now, which is 10.5 percent of the 1,430 officers on the force, Forté said. That compares poorly with the city’s 29.9 percent black population.

“We have to do a better job of recruiting,” said Forté, who graduated in 1980 from Ruskin High School and joined the Police Department in 1985 after being rejected in 1983. But in addition to recruiting more blacks and Hispanics for jobs, the department has to do a better job on retention and getting more in the pipeline for promotions. That would better bond the force with the community it serves and increase folks’ sense of justice.

“The 50-year outlook is bleak,” Forté said. “As we retire or leave there is no pool to pick from.”

His goal is for the percentage of officers of color to mirror the community. He is recruiting constantly. Working to solve the problem now will make the Police Department better by 2063.

Forté remembers fondly how black officers coached him on the dos and don’ts of the job so he could succeed in ways that they couldn’t. That sort of coaching has to occur for the police to better serve the community. Everyone plays a role in reducing crime and making this city better.

Forté said the public can’t expect the government to do it. Everyone must take ownership in raising children and reducing crime through a greater sense of community connectedness.

“It’s everybody giving back from where you sit,” said Forté, who holds degrees from Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley, Park University and Baker University. “There’s a lot people can do to contribute to build a foundation.

“It never ends. If we continue to have that servant-based mentality, it will be better for all of us.”

Just as much as Forté stays on top of police work and is engaged with people in the community, he also keeps up with traditional and social media, saying national and world events can shake things up at home. He points to homicides spiking above 100 in 1969 a year after King’s death and jumping to 152 in 1992 and 153 in 1993 in the era of Rodney King’s beating in Los Angeles.

“I attribute that to a loss of trust in the police,” Forté said. “When you fail to protect, you disconnect.”

Forté is trying to win back a sense of trust, end the no-snitch code, and step up the recruitment and retention of officers of color. It’s part of King’s dream.

Forté’s, too.

To reach Lewis W. Diuguid call 816-234-4723 or send email to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.

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