Lauded for his community connections, Forté will be missed, city leaders say

Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté announced he will retire.
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté announced he will retire.

Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté, the first African-American to lead the department, will announce next week he plans to retire after more than 30 years in law enforcement.

Forté, 55, alerted leaders of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners about his decision Tuesday night. He did not provide a specific reason for stepping down.

While no formal announcement has been made, Forté confirmed the news on Twitter shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday.

“I will be retiring from KCPD effective 5/20/17,” the chief wrote. “I appreciate the support I have received from everyone. It has been a honor serving.”

Reaction was quick from law enforcement and city leaders.

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Later Wednesday, Forté told The Star: “Entirely my decision. It just feels right.”

Forté said he plans to take a law school admission test in June.

“I took LSAT in the early 90s. Couldn’t quit job for first year of law school per the University of Missouri-Kansas City law school requirement,” he said in a message to a Star reporter. “Have no obstacles now.”

City and community leaders were stunned — and saddened.

“My heart sunk upon hearing this news,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker tweeted.

In a written statement, Kansas City Mayor Sly James said, “Chief Forte’s leadership has been very valuable to our city. I have enjoyed the working relationship we’ve maintained and I will always consider him a friend.”

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Eric Jackson, former special agent in charge of the FBI Kansas City office maintained a long-standing relationship with Chief Forte and the Kansas City Police Department.

“Chief Forté was not only an excellent law enforcement partner, he is a great friend to me and to the FBI,” said Jackson, who now heads the FBI office in Dallas. “His efforts in the community are unparalleled. He has been a great asset to the city of Kansas City, and he will be sorely missed.”

Appointed as the department’s 44th police chief on Oct. 12, 2011, Forté has been credited for his calming and consistent presence in keeping his city’s peace while other cities experienced civil unrest following fatal police shootings involving African-Americans.

By the same token, police union officials have sharply criticized Forté for comments he had made in support of those protesting police shootings.

Two weeks ago, Forté told a monthly gathering at the McDonald’s at Interstate 70 and Prospect Avenue that he had no immediate plans to retire and there were other initiatives he wanted to see implemented, said Sgt. Brad Lemon, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99.

“His strongest legacy is creating a relationship between us and the community,” Lemon said. “It is important to note that while the chief was here, we have had a number of situations that have happened across the country that caused a lot of strife and a lot of difficulty.”

Since becoming police chief, Forté has maintained a high profile. He routinely shows up at crime scenes, sometimes in his off-duty clothes and riding his Harley. He tweets information and photos of officers, attends community meetings and is often accessible to residents through social media platforms.

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“The chief has been a great chief for the Police Department for the city of Kansas City,” said Leland M. Shurin, police board president. “He will be missed. He has made some changes that were needed and were helpful for the city and the department.

“The other side of it, like everybody else, the operation of the department is not contingent on one person. We will find a very good replacement for him, and we will go forward well.”

Shurin said the police board will meet Friday to discuss their plans to hire a new police chief.

James, who is a member of the Board of Police Commissioners, said he was “committed to finding the best person in the country to lead the department.”

Forté helped reshape how street cops interact with those they serve.

Those changes included training officers on de-escalation tactics. Officers, detectives, supervisors and commanders are now required to work in parts of the city where violent crime has historically been a problem. He also created a police unit to assist violent crime victims and their families.

He appointed a diversity officer who worked to advance inclusion and the promotion of minorities, women and others.

“I was very happy to be a part of the board that selected him, and he has done an admirable job,” said Alvin Brooks, former Kansas City mayor pro tem and a member of the police board. “He has brought about a lot of changes; he set the bar pretty high.”

Damon Daniel, president of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, said Forté took care of his officers while keeping them accountable.

“During his tenure as Police Chief, Darryl has made self-care a priority for law enforcement officers, instituting mandatory days off and offering counseling following traumatic incidents,” Daniel said. “He worked to increase transparency by incorporating the use of body cameras and made an unprecedented step forward by signing a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Attorney, the FBI and the Jackson County Prosecutor to increase civil rights protections.”

Rosilyn Temple, who started the anti-violence group Mothers in Charge after the murder of her son, said she cried when she heard the news about the chief’s retirement.

“I think it is a loss for our community,” Temple said. “He did a lot to make a difference and make a change.”

She said Forté continually demonstrated how much he cared about the community by coming to every homicide scene and connecting personally with people affected by violent crime.

Temple said Forté’s presence and support means so much for grieving families. She now offers that same kind of support to others because of him, she said.

“He gave me the opportunity to do what I do,” Temple said.

Raised in south Kansas City by a single mother, Forté said he knew at an early age that he wanted to become a police officer. When Forté was a sixth-grader, a police officer told him to avoid cigarettes, drugs and alcohol if he wanted a law enforcement career.

He took that advice to heart and even today, Forté proclaims that he has never smoked a cigarette or tasted alcohol.

Working his way through the ranks, Forté secured promotions and transfers that would help prepare him for the opportunity to become police chief.

In July 2003, Forté was assigned to lead the violent crimes division.

He was the first to identify the bodies surfacing in the Prospect Avenue corridor as the work of a serial killer.

Forté created a task force, allowing the sergeant to hand-pick detectives, summoned resources and set up a command post in the middle of the night after the second and third bodies were found.

Within 10 days, Terry Blair was arrested for the murders. Blair was later convicted of those crimes and is serving six consecutive life terms in prison.

As deputy chief, Forté boarded a city bus at least twice a month so he could listen to what passengers were saying. Since 1998, he conducted community surveys to find out whether people were reporting crimes.

Forté was widely viewed as the favorite for the department’s top job when Police Chief Jim Corwin announced that he would retire. The city’s Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Forté, citing his strong support from the community as a lifelong Kansas City resident.

As a finalist for police chief, Forté listed 35 ideas for reducing homicides and violent crime. Those included flooding homicide scenes with resources to help investigators identify possible witnesses. He also outlined 36 ideas to build trust in the community, ranging from putting decals on supervisors’ cars so residents can easily identify them to launching a police-as-substitute-teachers program.

Most recently, Forté met with about a dozen residents to hear their ideas to reduce crime. He also successfully prodded city leaders to devote additional resources to demolish abandoned houses as an effort to reduce neighborhood crime.

In his predecessor’s last year as police chief, the city ended 2011 with 114 homicides. The killings dipped to 106 in Forté’s first full year as chief and decreased again the following year, 2013, with 100 killings.

In 2014, the city’s murder rate dropped to a historic low of 82 killings.

However, the number of homicides has steadily increased in the two years since then. Last year, the city saw 128 homicides and so far there have been 27 killings in 2017. Nonfatal shootings have increased in recent years, as well.

In thinking about Forté’s replacement, the mayor cautioned that the police chief is not solely responsible for reducing violent crime.

“It’s imperative that we understand that public safety has to be a community commitment,” James said. “Moving forward, I think it’s important we remember that each resident is an active participant in addressing crime and violence.”

Forté often implored the same of residents, including himself. Recently, he came upon a woman with a golf club intent on assault. He talked her out of the crime.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp has known Forté for 30 years. They were young Kansas City patrol officers riding together early in their careers, and Sharp later worked under Forté in the homicide unit.

“He was just a great guy to work for,” Sharp said. “Darryl is one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet.”

The Star’s Katy Bergen and Tony Rizzo contributed to this report.

Glenn E. Rice: 816-234-4341, @GRicekcstar

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