Kansas City’s new police chief, Rick Smith, has work to do.
The Board of Police Commissioners chose Smith Friday, wrapping up a summer-long search to replace former Chief Darryl Forté, who retired.
The choice wasn’t a surprise. The other finalist, Chief Keith Humphrey, came from Oklahoma. Kansas City hasn’t hired an outsider to run the department since the 1970s.
Smith, on the other hand, has been with the Kansas City police force since 1988.
That means he ascends to this post with a thorough knowledge of the department he inherits — its structure, habits, methods, quirks, shortcomings.
We hope he uses that information to good effect. The shelves groan with studies and reports detailing ways the Kansas City police could spend money more efficiently and put more officers on the street.
Civilians could do more jobs now performed by uniformed police. Consolidating with city functions could save money. Divisions could be redrawn. Patrol cars could do with one officer, not two.
Yet bureaucratic resistance has made it difficult to implement those changes. Kansas Citians should encourage Smith to overcome those obstacles and make needed adjustments.
But let’s be realistic: Smith’s only real job today is to figure out a way to reduce the city’s horrific homicide and violent crime rates.
Some have argued that the chief alone isn’t responsible for reducing the bloodshed. We agree. But he isn’t blameless, either. And fairly or not, Smith will be judged on how effectively he addresses the rolling gun battle on our streets.
That means he must quickly decide if more officers are needed in high-crime areas and determine how those officers work with the community to find and arrest killers.
This is a civil rights issue. Three out of every four victims of homicide this year have been African-American, a shocking statistic.
Community outreach will be especially critical for Smith, who succeeds the city’s first African-American chief of police. We hope Smith is as visible as Forté was at crime scenes, community forums and the like.
Not everyone will be pleased with the selection. There is word some prosecutors are concerned about the choice, for example. Some rank-and-file officers may be upset.
That kind of discontent is probably unavoidable in a police department as large as Kansas City’s. Still, it’s incumbent on the chief to reach out to all stakeholders in an effort to improve the department and make this city a safer place.
Kansas Citians should thank the police board for its hard work. And Smith deserves a hearty congratulations.
Now the hard work begins.