A sheriff showdown: A contentious race for Jackson County Sheriff

Forté, Sharp get contentious over Jackson County Sheriff race

By Tyler Schneider

There’s a not-so-new sheriff in Jackson County. His name is Mike Sharp, and he would like his old job back. 

Sharp was first elected to the office of Jackson County Sheriff in 2009 and served in that capacity for nearly a decade until his resignation in April of 2018 in the wake of a scandal involving revelations that he had engaged in an ongoing sexual relationship with a direct employee. 

If Sharp is to get the redemption arc that he believes is still within his reach, he’ll need to convince voters to oust his replacement, Darryl Forté, at the polls in the Aug. 4 primary election. Forté, a former Kansas City Police Department police chief with over three decades of law enforcement experience, was appointed by County Executive Frank White to fill the vacancy following Sharp’s departure. Forté later won reelection for his current term.  

This all could prove to be a tall order for Sharp and his campaign, as Forté is already in the midst of an ongoing cultural overhaul of the department — one where his goal is to erase what he describes as “a culture and hierarchy, based on fear,” and replace that fear with a respect-oriented atmosphere.

In the two years that Forté has been at the helm, he says he has issued “over 30 individual disciplinary actions for non-supervisors and suspended five supervisors without pay for serious policy violations — including striking someone in handcuffs, ramming a sheriff’s officer car into another car, and not recovering drugs for 89 days,” he said. “There are actually still guns and drugs missing. There’s a reason people don’t want me there. I plan to be there, because we’re going to keep digging and uncovering things.”

For his part, Sharp said he initially had no desire to re-engage in politics following his 2018 resignation, but was later encouraged to give it the old college try. 

“I spoke to some county legislators who asked if I was interested in coming back. My first inclination was, ‘no, I’ve had enough of politics’,” Sharp explained. “After seeing what was going on at the sheriff’s office and hearing more and more about how the morale was so low, I spoke with a few deputies and I decided that if no one else would run against him I would give it a try.”

Sharp is then asked what he feels his honest prospects of winning are. Is he hopeful?

“You never know. It’s an odd year. It’s hard to get a feel for what people are thinking,” Sharp said. 

The way Sharp himself sees it, he has atoned for his mistakes and is now ready to begin moving forward once more. 

“I admitted to my faults, I confessed to what I did. I had a relationship with a woman in my office a year prior to my resignation. I fired her for some misconduct, and then she was investigated and charged with a crime. That’s what happened, that’s the truth,” Sharp said in a tense exchange that occurred during a South Kansas City digital legislative forum last Wednesday. 

The only issue the two candidates may (if only just in broad strokes) agree on is the fact that they both don’t vehemently oppose the idea of a state-controlled KCPD. In Forté’s case, he wants to see a commonly understood concept of what a transfer of power to local authorities would look like. To this point, he says he has yet to hear a satisfying response to that concern. 

Sharp holds a more favorable view towards a harder-on-crime approach: a state controlled KCPD “takes the politics out of law enforcement for the Kansas City police officer,” he explained. 

When either one of them heads out of the August 4 primary night as the presumptive next sheriff of Jackson County, however, the legacy of the other man will inevitably be diminished over time. Both believe the department was or is better under their leadership. 

The voters will get the final say, as it were. 


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