New Grain Valley police chief back to ‘basics’

David Starbuck
David Starbuck City of Grain Valley

At the Kansas City Police Department, David Starbuck dealt with gang violence, drive-by shootings and other violent criminal acts.

The former police officer for Kansas City, who also worked for the National Drug Intelligence Center, says that as Grain Valley’s new chief of police, he doubts he’ll face the same volume of crime.

But, he said, “It’s the same old basic police work.”

Starbuck, who has an extensive background in big city and federal law enforcement, says his job supervising the Kansas City gang unit was high profile and intense.

Starbuck started his new job last week, having served as the acting chief for almost three months after former Chief Aaron Ambrose resigned to take a position in the private sector.

Starbuck is a well known in the Kansas City law enforcement community.

“Dave Starbuck brings a ton of experience,” said Grain Valley Mayor Mike Todd. “Dave is respected in law enforcement circles throughout the metro area, and we are fortunate to have him taking over leadership of the Grain Valley Police Department.”

Cy Ritter, president and CEO of the Police Foundation of Kansas City, said he worked with Starbuck for several years undercover in the Special Investigations Unit at the Kansas City Police Department.

“(Starbuck) had been undercover for quite a while before I came … and mentored me” in the techniques of that kind of police work, Ritter said.

In those days, “we worked everything from vice to narcotics to stolen property — we did everything,” Ritter said, adding this was before the gang unit was formed in 1993.

“(Starbuck) did a great job with the gang unit,” he said. “For many years, he was the No. 1 resource on gang activity in the Midwest.”

Former Kansas City Police Chief Richard D. Easley, president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission, said he has known Dave Starbuck more than 30 years.

“If you needed to know anything about gangs, drugs or criminals, Dave was the person everyone contacted,” Easley said.

“He has always been a very committed crime fighter and we at KCPD could always count on Dave to do a great job.”

Starbuck started his law enforcement career with the Kansas City Police Department. He said he organized the department’s first gang unit and supervised it for eight years as a sergeant.

In 2001, Starbuck retired after 25 years on the force and then worked as a field intelligence officer for the National Drug Intelligence Center under the U.S. Justice Department. He held that position for nine years until the agency was disbanded during a federal budget crunch.

Three years ago, he took a job with the Grain Valley Police Department as a crime prevention coordinator.

“I’ve had a very diverse law enforcement career,” Starbuck said, adding that he’s honored to be part of the department, which has about 25 police officers.

Comparing big-city policing with smaller community work, he said a smaller department has fewer resources, which can be a challenge.

“Fewer officers have to handle everything and sometimes that can be a little overwhelming,” he said. “But they do a great job.”

The Kansas City Police Department gang unit was created because in the early ’90s, the street gangs in Kansas City were extremely problematic, he said. Drive-by shootings had escalated by 200 percent, he said, and there was a “huge increase in gangs.”

Because of this, he said, the department realized it needed a specialized gang unit.

He said working in the gang squad involved “long hours, lots of arrests, lots of seizures of drugs and guns.” While he says the job was stressful and demanding, he was fortunate enough to be able to choose his own people.

“They were effective and able to reduce gang violence.”

Part of what the unit did was to concentrate on firearms violations enforcement, he said. Anything involving a gun, drugs or violence was the subject of the unit’s attention. The squad also concentrated on cases involving repeat offenders.

While Grain Valley has less crime than he faced in KCMO, property crimes are more prevalent by comparison to the types of cases in Kansas City he said.

However, he added, since Interstate 70 runs through Grain Valley, its officers deal with many people in transit.

“You never know who you’re stopping,” he said.

While declining to comment on the Ferguson, Mo., case, he said that because of the transient nature of society, officers never know whom they will encounter in the line of duty.

Yet another part of the chief’s diverse law enforcement career involved his work for the National Drug Intelligence Center. His work covered a three-state region: Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska.

In that job, he said, he gathered intelligence on trends of drug trafficking and abuse, as well as criminal street gang intelligence.

The agency hired a number of retired law enforcement officers, he said.

“The information was used by intelligence analysts to produce threat assessments to law enforcement and policy makers.”