Darryl Forté named interim Jackson County sheriff
UPDATED to reflect Rosilyn Allen entering the race for sheriff
Darryl Forté,who served nearly six years as Kansas City’s first African-American police chief, on Thursday accomplished another historic first when he was named the first African-American sheriff of Jackson County.
“Ultimately, Darryl Forté is the right person for the job,” White said in a prepared statement. “He has put together an impressive plan to build on the strengths of the Sheriff’s Office and make the changes necessary to ensure the Office is one we can all be proud of.”
Forté will serve for the remainder of the year, becoming the 43rd sheriff of Jackson County since the first was installed in 1827.
“I am excited about it. They have a professional, energized organization, and I am happy to be a part of it now,” he said in a telephone interview with The Star. “I view this as an opportunity to continue to contribute and follow my passion to serve.”
Forté replaces Mike Sharp, who abruptly resigned last month after it was revealed that he kept up an ongoing romantic, sexual and financial relationship with a female employee of the sheriff’s office while she had a pending lawsuit against Jackson County for harassment.
Shortly after Sharp stepped down, White appointed a nine-person nominating committee who reviewed the candidates and recommended three finalists for the job.
Other finalists included retired Kansas City police Maj. Rosilyn D. Allen and Capt. Michael Rogers, who heads patrol enforcement at the sheriff’s office.
Some were hoping to see Allen selected, both because her appointment as an African-American woman would have been doubly historic, as all previous sheriffs have been white men. But also because in this #metoo era, it would have sent a message. Under Sharp, the sheriff’s office had a reputation as a place where sexual harassment persisted.
Taxpayers spent more than $150,000 in out-of-court settlements while Sharp was sheriff after two women alleged they were subject to sexual harassment and sexual discrimination while working at the sheriff’s office. A third woman who was also Sharp’s girlfriend also sued the county alleging harassment.
Her lawsuit was dismissed this week without any financial settlement being paid after testimony Sharp gave in his deposition undermined the case. It was that testimony that also led to his resignation.
Forté unexpectedly announced his retirement in March 2016 after serving over 31 years with the police department. Since August, Forté has been a part-time law student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
As police chief, Forté oversaw a police department with 1,900 employees and managed a $230 million budget. The sheriff’s office has roughly 145 employees and an annual budget of $11.7 million.
Voters will decide in the August primary and November’s general election who will finish out the remaining two years of Sharp’s term, which runs to the end of 2020. The filing deadline is Monday. Among the candidates filing as Democrats for the Aug. 7 primary are Forté, Rogers, Allen and former Kansas City police Sgt. Ramona Arroyo. Allen was the last to enter the race, submitting her papers moments before Thursday’s announcement, according to the county clerk’s website.
David J. Bernal is the only Republican.
“I look forward to working with chief Darryl Forte’ in his new role as interim Sheriff,” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who was part of the panel that interviewed the finalists. “There is much work to do and I believe he’s ready to get to it.”
As chief of the Kansas City department, Forté was paid $189,708 a year. The county charter sets the sheriff’s pay at $103,771.
The job is different, too. As chief, Forté ran a large, multifaceted urban police force with its own crime lab. As sheriff, he will be in charge of courthouse security, patrolling the county’s rural areas and overseeing a law enforcement agency with far fewer assets.
Forté said he plans to soon meet with sworn and civilian staff and get their input on a 10-point strategic plan that focuses on service, training and technology.
A community gathering and meet and greet is planned for Saturday. Details were not immediately available.
Forté said he received significant support when he decided to seek the appointment.
“When it is a passion, it is not a punishment,” he said. “I appreciate County Executive White for the opportunity to contribute to a professional team.”
Forté was appointed as the department’s 44th police chief on Oct. 12, 2011. In a career that spanned 32 years, Forté was a patrol officer and worked his way through the ranks to become a division commander and later a deputy chief.
During his tenure as police chief, 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.
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.
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith, who was out of town on Thursday morning and did not attend the ceremony, said in a prepared statement, “We wish him the best of luck on his new endeavor.”