By Kathy Feist
Newly retired police chief and south Kansas City resident Rick Smith voices a warning to fellow southlanders.
“There’s going to be a huge challenge here,” he says.
Smith is referring to the recently approved police department budget that did not include funding additional officers for its South Patrol division. The budget was approved by the city council on March 24.
In an interview with the Telegraph following his retirement on April 22nd, Smith was passionate about his concerns for south KC.
“Being a southlander and having looked at the finances of the city–and the staffing of our police department–the Southland is going to have some serious challenges with not having enough officers,” he said.
Last year the homicide rate in south Kansas City remained high despite a decrease in homicides overall in Kansas City. According to KCPD statistics, Kansas City had 157 homicides in 2021, 179 in 2020, and 151 in 2019. Comparatively, homicides in the South Patrol district remained at 22 in 2021 and 2020, 8 in 2019 and 16 in 2018. Those statistics did not rally city councilmen to budget money for new police officers at the South Patrol division this year.
“South Patrol got nothing,” he says.
“We have good neighborhoods that could easily go south if there’s not an investment,” he cautioned.
Smith encourages south Kansas Citians to stay engaged with city leaders and the budget process to ensure they are getting the security they deserve.
“If people are not engaged in this, [the City] is going to take every dime from south Kansas City that they can use and put it somewhere else. We’re going to be left with not much. You can already see it happening.”
This year more funding went to the East and Metro patrol divisions where crime and homicide numbers are the highest in Kansas City.
It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for Smith who walked into the role of police chief in 2017. Emotions ran high In 2020 when the country reacted to police brutality after the death of George Floyd. Protests led to riots. Riots led to police brutality upon peaceful protestors. The city reacted by defunding the police department. A court battle ensued, with the judge ruling in favor of KC’s Board of Police. Finally state legislators passed a law making it illegal for the city to underfund the Kansas City’s police department.
There were calls for Smith’s resignation amid accusations of racism and high profile incidents of police brutality. Additionally, the pandemic and the budget cut had its effect on staffing which shrank.
Despite the last couple of years, Smith says he harbors no regrets.
“I have no regrets,” he says. “But do I look back and say hey could I have done this better? Or had I known how this would have gone in this direction would I have done that instead of this? I’m sure there are always things I could have handled better. But I don’t have regrets about the decision I made on the course we chartered for the police department. I think those things went fairly well.”
Those things that Smith has overseen as police chief include the use of body-worn cameras, the increase in social workers, the initiative of shoot review, the mandate of crisis intervention training, and most recently the introduction of a new program called Tactical Longevity that teaches recruits how to cope with trauma.
Smith is most proud of last year’s crime rate. Kansas City was among six major cities in America that saw a decline in homicides, despite a police shortage.
“Some of the things we were doing here were working while things in other cities were not,” he said.
Smith says the most rewarding part of his job has been the relationships he has built at the police department since he left St. Paul, Minn. to join the Kansas City Police Academy in 1987.
“I’ve enjoyed all my experiences at the police department as I have moved from different jobs and different ranks. I’m very fortunate.”
He was also thankful for his strong foundation of family, friends and faith that supported him over the years.