When Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté decides that he wants to go out to lunch, well, he really means out to lunch.
As in, Iowa.
A couple of months ago he climbed onto his personal 2014 amber whiskey-colored Harley-Davidson Street Glide and made the 200-mile trip to Des Moines. Just because he could.
“I just love being free and not using your own power to get around,” he said. “It is just the freedom and you can see a whole lot more being out there; smelling the smells, seeing people directly without windows and things like that.
“It is really liberating.”
Since he was a 15-year-old growing up in south Kansas City, Forté has loved riding motorcycles. In those days, Forte and his best friend, Anthony Carlos Richardson, often rode their minibikes from their Stratford Estates neighborhood to the Truman Corners Shopping Center in Grandview.
“We had bicycles before, but just being on that minibike, using that throttle and just riding anywhere you wanted to ride for long periods without getting tired — there was nothing else like it,” he said.
The only caveat was that Forté had to be home before the streetlights came on.
Forté has lost count of the number of motorcycles he has owned over the years, but he knows he has owned three Harley-Davidsons.
It’s fairly common to see Forté riding through the streets of Kansas City either on his personal Harley or his police department-issued hog.
“I just like the sound a Harley makes,” he said. “People know when you are coming.”
Forté figures he is probably the only police chief in the United States who rides a motorcycle as part of his official duties.
The police chief has been seen riding up to crime scenes on his Harley. But most of the time, he rides for pleasure. Sometimes it is a weekend trip alone to Arkansas. Other times it’s local trips to Penguin Park in the Northland, Martin City in south Kansas City or around the Interstate 435 loop for a stop at The Legends in Wyandotte County.
“Every place I can ride my motorcycle, I go,” he said.
Most often, he rides along Prospect Avenue in midtown.
“Sometimes I just go and sit,” he said.
Forté frequently stops and chats with residents he encounters during his rides. He likes to listen to their stories, hear their concerns about neighborhood safety or share some good family news.
Because he maintains a strong presence on social media, he is easily recognizable.
“I think they think that it is a good thing to see me out in the public,” he said. “I don’t have anybody with me, and I don’t have security so I just ride everywhere.”
However, this summer Forté had to put in extra work to convince a group of citizens that he was the city’s police chief.
In June, some neighborhood boys approached Forté after he pulled up to a crime scene in the 4200 block of College Avenue where a man had refused to surrender to police after attacking a neighbor.
Forté was there on his personal Harley-Davidson and dressed in civilian clothes. The boys, who were riding bicycles, had stopped to admire to the Harley when a reporter asked them if they knew who they were talking to.
“They didn’t believe that I was the chief because they had never seen a police chief in their neighborhood before,” he said. “They really didn’t know who I was.”
Forté ended up showing the boys his police badge and other identification to convince them.
His years on top of his motorcycle haven’t always been smooth riding. He has been in at least three motorcycle wrecks, in 1983, 1989 and 1992, he said. He has had plastic surgery to repair a damaged upper lip. He also has broken ribs and torn ligaments.
Taking motorcycle classes two years ago helped him improve his riding skills and gave him a greater sense of confidence.
“I thought I could ride, but I didn’t know the proper technique,” he said. “I feel a lot more confident after going to motorcycle school. I am still cautious, but I am a lot better rider. I am not cocky or arrogant, and I ride according to my ability.”
Forté figures he’ll ride as long as he has the ability and strength to hold up his motorcycle.
“I’m hoping that I can ride until I am in my 80s,” he said with a laugh.
Until then it is the open road for him.
“I don’t drink and I don’t party, so this is my therapy,” Forté said. “When I ride I don’t think about anything that is controversial or anything that bothers me, so riding is very therapeutic and this is what I do in my free time.”