Darryl Forté’s plan this week was to quietly ease his way into retirement.
Serving nearly six years as the Kansas City police chief, Forté has spent countless late nights and early mornings at homicide scenes. While out there, Forté used his Twitter account to feed followers updates and photos of detectives and the women and men in uniform.
But as he neared his goodbye on Saturday, there was no big retirement fanfare. No plans for a public retirement ceremony with the standard sheet cake, fruit punch or platters of store-bought cookies. No testimonial speeches, balloons or proclamations from City Hall.
Forté didn’t even want to talk to a reporter about leaving the department, where he started his law enforcement career in 1985 as a patrol officer and worked his way through the ranks to become a division commander and later a deputy chief.
Instead, he spent hours doing what he’s become known for: having a presence in the community.
On Wednesday, the day he planned to cruise the city for the last time on his police Harley -Davidson motorcycle, Forté instead sat in his SUV in a parking lot and waited for a recent homicide suspect to surrender.
The hours passed, and Forté waited. But the suspect never showed up. Forté’s planned final ride through the Kansas City streets didn’t happen.
Forté was appointed as the department’s 44th police chief on Oct. 12, 2011. Now 55, he retires Saturday after 32 years with the department.
While he kept the peace and enhanced police strategies, the homicide and violent crime rate soared, and detectives tasked with protecting young and vulnerable crime victims are under investigation for failing to do their jobs.
Those successes and challenges will be handed over to Deputy Chief David Zimmerman, who will be sworn in as the interim police chief at 10 a.m. Saturday at police headquarters at 1125 Locust St.
What Forté “brought to the job was the ability to step into the community and not need to be introduced,” said Pat McInerney, who was the police board president when Forté was hired.
“He had been a community guy his whole career. He had long relationships before he was chief, so he was able to hit the ground running when it came to being the face of the Police Department. That was huge, and he generated a lot of respect in doing that,” McInerney said.
In March, Forté unexpectedly announced his retirement. He later told The Star he plans to take a law school admission test and attend law school.
The police board was sharply criticized after it revealed that Forté will be owed more than $499,117 for accrued vacation, sick and comp time. Some neighborhood leaders denounced the decision to reassign community interaction officers to street duty.
The news of his retirement rattled community leaders who had grown accustomed to Forté’s presence at crime scenes, at community meetings and on social media.
“He’s well liked in the community, and he will be missed,” said Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. “People in the community hold him in high esteem. I have never been in any meetings at the community-based level where there has been any negative assessment of the chief. He is well liked.”
During his tenure, the department opened new patrol stations, a new crime lab, enhanced criminal intelligence gathering, forged partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, made officer wellness a top priority and embraced new crime-fighting strategies. More officers are deployed to high-crime areas.
Forté committed money and personnel to the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, which works with violent offenders.
“He made changes in the structure in this Police Department to make it more efficient, to break down the silos they were operating in and try to make information and intelligence flow more smoothly,” said Mayor Sly James. “I respect him for that.”
Yet over the past two years, Kansas City has experienced a 37 percent spike in homicides, according to a recent national crime study. Nonfatal shootings made a dramatic jump over the past two years. Homicides have increased again this year.
An internal review found that the department’s crimes against children unit “severely mishandled” at least 148 cases. Detectives in that unit were suspended and then reassigned to the patrol divisions while a review of their work continues. Department officials have said they don’t know when their investigation of the unit will be complete.
As a finalist for police chief, Forté won the endorsement of the city’s police union. Union officials now have challenged Forté about the dwindling number of officers on the streets.
“We hope that the future chief will have strong internal leadership skills and listen to the concerns of the membership that we represent. We have to have more police officers out on the streets,” said Sgt. Brad Lemon, president of the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police.
Yet, the union president still said he appreciated what Forté accomplished.
“He was the chief of police in an urban-core environment, in the same state where Ferguson happened and the problems we saw nationally; you have to give the chief an incredible amount of respect and accolades in how he handled the city,” Lemon said.
Others say Forté deserves credit for pushing diversity and making other innovative changes.
“He has been a good chief of police; he has been an effective leader,” McInerney said. “I think that the department and the city can be proud that Darryl Forté was chief of police.”