As usual Friday morning, Darryl Forté wasn’t behind his desk at 12th and Locust streets.
The Kansas City police chief was cruising the East Side in an ongoing effort to demonstrate that police are committed to a larger presence there.
By many measures, 2014 was a banner year for the city’s first black police chief as he charted a new way forward. Homicides were down to their lowest level in 42 years. Property crimes — burglary, stealing, car theft — dropped too.
His involvement with area law enforcement agencies aimed at cracking down on the most violent offenders is producing results. Forté-led initiatives that analyze crime trends and focus on areas hardest hit are paying off.
Forté estimates he spent at least half his year outside police headquarters cruising the streets, checking in with residents and forging partnerships with a community long suspicious of anything cop. That’s new too.
When protesters marched in Kansas City in response to Ferguson, Mo., Forté’s department met with movement leaders ahead of time. Then his officers did something else. They offered marchers rides back to their cars at evening’s end.
“We knew they were tired,” Forté said.
New thinking is making a difference. For all these reasons, Forté is the Kansas City area newsmaker of the year.
Let’s face it: For decades, Kansas City’s reputation as one of America’s most violent cities — along with its floundering school district — has held us back. That the city is progressing on both fronts at the dawn of a new year is reason for serious notice.
All this comes with a giant caveat. Kansas City crime stats yo-yo with alarming regularity. That suggests that last year’s homicide plummet could become just another statistical anomaly.
But Forté, who views his 29-year career on the force as something of a ministry, says he is reasonably confident that won’t happen. A new anti-crime infrastructure is now in place. And, he insists, he’s nowhere near satisfied.
The man who goes to almost every homicide scene, including plenty of the 3 a.m. variety, knows what anguish families go through each time a body hits the ground. That’s because he sees it so often.
“It just does something to you inside,” Forté said.
This year will bring a renewed focus on how the department treats its officers. More content cops will lead to better relations with residents, and it will boost their passion for police work, Forté said.
A worthy goal for a very worthy leader.