Rick Smith, the 29-year Kansas City Police Department veteran who worked his way up through the ranks, was named the 45th police chief for the department Friday.
“I am truly humbled to become the leader of the men and women of this department,” Smith said. “It’s a dream to sit in this chair and to look at this department and see where we can move forward and to accomplish the things that need to be accomplished in this city to make this city great.”
After the police board met in closed session Friday morning, the announcement was made at a 1 p.m. news conference. Smith will be sworn in during a ceremony Aug 15.
Smith was introduced to yells, celebratory screams and thunderous applause from a large group of police officers and civilian employees who had gathered inside the community room at police headquarters.
“The rank and file supported Major Smith from the beginning,” said Brad Lemon, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police. “He’s a lifetime member of the Fraternal Order of Police. He’s been strongly supportive of officers in the field. He has a great relationship with the community, and it actually sets us up for success immediately. There’s not a learning curve with the new chief, and we’re excited about that.”
Smith said, “There’s nothing better than to have the support of the people that you’re going to be leading. It’s awesome, it’s an awesome feeling. It doesn’t happen too often in one’s lifetime to have this kind of opportunity.”
Smith was one of two finalists for the job. On Thursday, Norman, Okla., Police Chief Keith Humphrey and Smith responded to written questions from the public at a forum held in front of a packed community room at headquarters.
The board voted 3-2 in favor of Smith.
Humphrey said he was disappointed that he was not the board’s choice to be police chief.
Humphrey said he especially surprised that commissioners did not take more time to deliberate before taking a final vote. The board voted within 20 minutes after Humphrey said they interviewed him Friday.
“I truly believe that they did not want someone from the outside,” he said. “I’m disappointed, but I’m not bitter.”
Board president Leland Shurin said both candidates were well-versed, intelligent and had years of experience in law enforcement. However, Smith’s credentials stood out.
“He understands our department,” Shurin said. “He has years of experience here. He’s smart, he’s a darn good police officer. He has worked his way through the field, so he has full knowledge of the operations here. He can move quickly to make the changes we need to make.”
Fellow commissioner Angela Wasson-Hunt added: “He’s honest. He’s a hard worker and he’s going to put us back to work, and we’re all excited about that.”
During the public forum, Humphrey and Smith spoke on their past experiences and goals to serve as police chief. Each addressed how he would handle issues such as officer-involved shootings, community policing, diversity and building better relationships with neighborhoods and faith-based groups.
David Zimmerman has served as the city’s interim police chief since May and will continue in that role until Smith is sworn in.
In March, Police Chief Darryl Forté unexpectedly announced that he would retire in May. The police board soon launched a nationwide search for a new chief.
The next police chief will lead a department that remains under state control, has more than 1,800 sworn officers and civilian employees as well as an annual operating budget of $250.8 million.
Smith said he will look for ways to reduce the recent dramatic jump in homicides, with 85 so far this year, and a continued rise in gun and street violence.
Smith said he has wanted to be a police officer since he was 5 years old, growing up in Minnesota. He has been with the police department since 1988 and has worked as a patrol officer, tactical response officer and supervisor in the homicide unit and elsewhere.
Smith is now the commander of the Central Patrol Division on East Linwood Boulevard. Prior to that, he was the department’s project manager assigned to the Kansas City No Violence Alliance.
During the community forum Thursday, Smith said he would work with the city’s faith-based community to foster better relationships between law enforcement and citizens.
He also plans to add more patrol officers on the streets and embed social workers at each of the city’s six patrol divisions. Smith said the social worker assigned to the Central Patrol has been instrumental in stemming unruly youths who had frequented entertainment districts, including the Country Club Plaza.
Alissia Canady, chairwoman of the Kansas City Council’s Public Safety Committee, said the police board had a tough decision in determining who is going to lead the city’s Police Department and help reduce violence.
“They decided to go with a local candidate because they felt that was best for the department at this time,” Canady said. “I am looking forward to working with Maj. Smith.
“Kansas City would have been very lucky to have Chief (Keith) Humphrey’s leadership. He was well received by the community in the short time he was here, and we wish him the best.”