Editorials

Editorial: Finding the right Kansas City police chief is critical. Let’s take our time.

Kansas City’s Board of Police Commissioners must find a replacement for retiring Chief Darryl Forté. The successful candidate will need to meet several benchmarks, and the board should take as much time as it needs to get things right.
Kansas City’s Board of Police Commissioners must find a replacement for retiring Chief Darryl Forté. The successful candidate will need to meet several benchmarks, and the board should take as much time as it needs to get things right. skeyser@kcstar.com

Kansas City’s Board of Police Commissioners is beginning the difficult job of finding a new police chief.

The board should take as much time as needed. Kansas City must get this right.

Current Chief Darryl Forté is retiring in May. The department’s capable command staff should ensure efficient operation while the search is in progress. The police board will pick an interim chief, perhaps later this month.

A national search firm will be hired to help look for a new chief. It’s a good approach: The board should look across the country for qualified applicants.

What should the criteria be?

The new chief first must know how to efficiently run a sprawling organization. Kansas City’s Police Department is a $250 million dollar operation with almost 2,000 employees. Training and recruitment skills are critical.

The new chief will oversee management of more than 900 police vehicles, maintain a crime lab and make sure the radios work. He or she must understand how to deploy personnel and commit to eliminating excessive overtime.

But running the department in a cost-effective manner won’t be enough. The new chief will need to be a good communicator — with the public, but also with rank-and-file officers.

There is always tension inside any large organization, but the Kansas City Police Department may experience more friction than most. The department’s Fraternal Order of Police chapter is often restless. Tradition and personal loyalties can lead to feuds and mistrust. Departments fight for resources, even as City Hall pours in millions of dollars.

Forté has made important strides in reducing racial tension in the department. His replacement must continue that work.

At the same time, the new chief will be expected to meet with community groups, school and neighborhood leaders. He or she will be the face of law enforcement in Kansas City — Forté’s successor must be prepared to fill that role.

The new chief also needs to know politics. Kansas City’s unique police structure means elected leaders have only a limited role in department oversight. At the same time, the mayor and council are often unfairly blamed for department problems.

State control of the department is strange and unhelpful. The new chief should address that issue, but at a minimum, he or she must understand it.

Finally, we can’t expect any chief of police to reduce violent crime on his or her own. Murders and other serious offenses are the result of a complex mix of factors, and Kansas City’s crime problem needs sustained attention on a number of fronts.

But the new chief must understand Kansas City’s outrage at the continuing scourge of violence. Kids are being shot dead. This has to stop. The new chief will want to study the Kansas City No Violence Alliance program, too, and make any needed adjustments.

The search process should be as open as possible. And while we’re at it, make sure qualified women are considered. There are several on the force now.

Kansas City needs a chief with organizational skills and political know-how, a good communicator with a plan to reduce violent crime.

It’s a tall order. It will take time, but Kansas City can’t afford to get this wrong.

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