Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté, the city’s first African-American police leader, spoke about diversity and community interaction in wide-ranging remarks Tuesday at the 56th annual Greater Kansas City Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast.
Forté said that every day since he became chief in 2011 he thinks about what the organization wants to be and how to get there.
“What’s more important (is) where don’t we want to be and how don’t we get there,” he said. “How don’t we become a Ferguson? How don’t we end up with a consent decree with the government coming in telling us what we need to do? I think about that every day.”
Forté said he makes decisions based on what he thinks is best for the entire community, not just the police.
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“It’s so important that we not divide ourselves,” he said. “The reason we haven’t had a Ferguson, a Milwaukee, a Baltimore or some of those other places (is) we have great people here.”
Forté is out in the field interacting with people almost every day, he said.
“A week ago there was a young lady carrying a golf club down the street, at 24th and Elmwood, on a Sunday morning,” he said. “I stopped and (said), ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ She said, ‘I’m going to go play golf with somebody’s head.’
“I talked to her for a minute, and I told her I was police chief and I couldn’t let her go do that. She explained in detail about why she was going to do it. Somebody had stolen her cellphone, she believed, and (was) having a relationship with her boyfriend.
“She was adamant, and I asked her, ‘You know any police officers?’ She said nope. … She said, ‘Over here, we don’t call the police. We handle it ourselves.’
“That’s why it’s important that we’re out there,” Forté told the crowd in the Grand Ballrom of the Kansas City Convention Center.
Forté said has told his officers that rather than stopping a young black male on the street and running him through the computer, they should consider just talking to him, asking his name and how he is doing. He acknowledged he has met some resistance.
“I can tell you (of) some of the bad police officers on the job, but it’s not enough (reason) to fire them,” he said. “It’s not enough to fire them yet. Because the people will tell you, ‘Yep, he uses racial slurs.’ I can tell you some have used racial slurs against me before I started. We have some bad people out there. I get this all the time, ‘Well, you have that in every profession.’ But you don’t have (a) profession that can take somebody’s life.
“If Southwest Airlines was advertising, ‘Ninety percent of our pilots can fly and they’re trained,’ would you fly with them?” Forté asked, drawing laughter. “That’s unacceptable. So I’m not going to settle for some bad apples. If we see a bad apple, we want to address it because it hurts everybody.”
Forté said he is several years past retirement age, but he hasn’t stepped down because, “I’m not done yet.”
The prayer breakfast is an annual charitable gathering of area elected officials and community members.
The beneficiary this year was Gilda’s Club Kansas City, which offers support for people with cancer.