Policing in America has undergone monumental changes in the last two years, more than in the previous 25 combined.
Police chiefs across the country know that they are one bad car stop, one public protest or police shooting away from becoming national news.
A questionable use of force by an officer, much less a fatal shooting, can go viral in minutes. The result will be public second-guessing about what happened, investigations, possible protests and civil lawsuits. The hyper-intense scrutiny is driving changes in police training and tactics.
Kansas City is searching for its next chief of police against this evolving backdrop and at a moment when the city is struggling to bring peace to the streets amid a rash of homicides.
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Kansas City’s murder rate, after declining during the past two decades, is spiking. Murders rates here are higher per 100,000 residents than in Chicago, which has become the symbol of out-of-control urban crime.
For our city’s new chief, there will be no time for on-the-job training or a grace period to ease into the role. Kansas City’s violent crime issues require urgent action and a leader who is well prepared on day one.
National experts point to multiple skills that former Chief Darryl Forté’s successor will need.
First, the chief must be a strong communicator who can forge trust with the community and commissioned officers. Every interaction any of the department’s 1,364 officers has with the public can build or destroy the department’s reputation.
The department’s next leader must build a team with a collaborative mindset focused not only on solving crimes but also on preventing violence. That will happen only when neighborhoods are willing to work with police, ensuring that officers have the benefit of citizens providing essential information. The chief must tackle an increasingly prevalent anti-snitching culture that results in witnesses refusing to cooperate with officers for fear of retaliation.
A long-awaited staffing report on the department should provide the new chief with guidance in assessing and realigning resources.
Training will be important as well, particularly as the department implements body cameras. Also needed is a chief who is attuned to emerging best practices. Policing is increasingly focused on de-escalating situations, a contrast to the past when police might have responded more aggressively.
Finally, the chief cannot solve ingrained social issues such as poverty and unemployment, which are precursors to crime. But he or she must understand the web of connections between such factors and violent crime rates.
All of this requires a new attitude for chiefs, who must be nimble and transparent in ways not previously demanded.
With a persistently high murder rate and violent crime still on the rise, both rank-and-file officers and Kansas Citians will be looking to Forté’s successor to quickly establish himself or herself as a visible leader who is committed to making the city safer.
Kansas City’s next chief must be capable of meeting the challenge.