By John Sharp
Getting the city off the list of the ten most violent cities in the U.S. is the top goal of new Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith, a 29-year veteran of the department who rose through the ranks and has been a south Kansas City resident for over 20 years.
Kansas City ranked 7th in the nation in 2010-2014 homicide rates for cities with over 250,000 population according to FBI Uniform Crime Report data, and the city’s homicide rates have gone up since then as they have in many cities after years of a declining trend.
According to the department’s daily homicide analysis, there was an average of 100.2 homicides a year from 2010 through 2014. There were 111 homicides in the city in 2015, 130 homicides in 2016, and there already have been 114 homicides recorded this year as of October 16 compared to 96 at this time last year.
Smith, who took over for former Chief Darryl Forte in August, said in an October 9 interview with me that emphasizing police patrolling and patrol response times will be one of his short-range goals to help achieve what will likely be a longer range goal of significantly reducing violent crime.
A recent staffing study of the department by an outside consultant recommended adding 37 more patrol officers in the short-term and 38 more in the long-term. When still a candidate for the position, Smith said if selected he wanted to get additional officers patrolling right away, noting that better response times are needed, according to the department publication The Informant.
Getting put on hold when you call 9-1-1 “has got to stop”, Smith told me in the interview. He explained he will be making a budget request for additional civilian employees to staff the 9-1-1 answering center. Now, he said, call takers often have to work mandatory overtime which increases the difficulty of retaining experienced call takers.
Getting put on hold when you call 9-1-1 “has got to stop.”
To improve communication with neighborhood groups, Smith has already facilitated restoring a community interaction officer to each patrol division, positions that were reassigned by Chief Forte. Smith said he also wants to double the number of community interaction officers so one will be available in each patrol division during the day and another will be available in the evenings when many neighborhood groups meet.
When I asked what residents can do to reduce crime, Smith said they should be engaged with their neighborhood. “Strong neighborhoods have less crime,” he said.
Noting that residents are sometimes hesitant to call 9-1-1 if they think a situation is not a dire emergency, Smith said persons should call 9-1-1 to prevent a crime or to report a crime. “When you think something’s about to happen, try to get us there before it does,” he said.
Police resources are allocated based partly on calls for service, and Smith said all gunshots should be reported to 9-1-1 so the department has a record of them and also so police can investigate to see if anyone has been shot.
Selected as chief from a pool of 42 applicants from around the U.S. by the Board of Police Commissioners, Smith has headed both the Central and East Patrol Divisions and worked in the south patrol, robbery & homicide, tactical response and planning & research divisions, as well as with the Kansas City No Violence Alliance.
The new chief earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Park University and his master’s degree in the same field from the University of Central Missouri. He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
Smith favors implementing several innovative changes in the department.
He told the October 9 meeting of the South Kansas City Alliance (SKCA) following my interview that he wants all patrol officers to have crisis intervention team training so they can better deal with persons experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. Now, he said, only a small percentage of officers have had that training.
He also told the SKCA that when he was commander of the Central Patrol Division he acquired a social worker who could connect residents with the appropriate community resources to assist them with personal problems that could become public safety issues. He said he wants to expand that program to every patrol division.