South KC Perspective
By John Sharp
The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners still has not responded to a September 26 letter formally requesting that the Board engage the community in the selection process for a new police chief signed by 13 major business, civic and faith-based organization, even though the Board has already concluded its initial application process and narrowed the field of candidates who will receive further consideration for this important position.
An off-site closed meeting of the Board to discuss personnel matters has been scheduled for 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, October 18, that is expected to discuss the chief selection.
The letter to the Board requesting public engagement in the selection process before the final selection is made by the Board was signed by the leaders of business, civic and faith-based groups brought together by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce to host seven earlier listening sessions throughout the city to get input from the public on what qualities and qualifications they want the new chief to have and what should be the new chief’s top priorities.
The letter from the groups, including the South Kansas City Alliance that I head, specifically asked that residents have the chance to meet and interact with the finalists for the position.
The leaders of those groups have continued to meet weekly to attempt to promote widespread public engagement in the chief selection process and support strategies to improve public safety in KCMO.
For several years, KCMO has ranked as one of the most violent big cities in the U.S. on a per capita basis, with per capita homicide rates significantly higher than cities like Chicago that have a reputation of being very violent.
In 2020, KCMO set a new all-time record for homicides with 179, including 149 by October 11 of that year. This year we had 130 homicides as of October 11 which was the second highest number of homicides by this time of year for the last five years.
We should not tolerate this level of violent crime!
The results of those listening sessions were presented to the Board on May 24.
Participants in those listening sessions and those responding to community surveys ranked building trust in the community, holding officers and staff accountable, reducing homicides and other violent crime, strengthening police/community partnerships and building a department reflective of the community it serves as what they felt the new chief’s top priority should be.
In south Kansas City, the westside and northeast areas of the city, participants listed reducing homicides and other violent crime as what they thought the new chief’s top priority should be.
The top five leadership qualities participants wanted the new chief to have were: has honesty & integrity, develops meaningful solutions to community problems, holds employees accountable, values diversity at all levels and values positive community relations.
The top five qualifications participants wanted the new chief to have were: practices transparency & openness, has a record of reducing crime and promoting community safety, has experience utilizing de-escalation techniques, promotes community oriented policing and having experience recruiting and retaining quality personnel.
The letter to the Board noted that one of the most prominent takeaways from the listening sessions was the need for the next chief to build trust in the community through transparency and openness.
That is why, the letter said, the groups are calling on the Board to engage the community in the selection process and allow residents to have the chance to meet and interact with the finalists for the position before a candidate is hired.
Bishop Mark Tolbert, Board president, told a May 9 meeting of the South Kansas City Alliance that at that time the Board planned to interview the top five candidates for the position and to hold community meetings for residents to have the opportunity to question three finalists.
The letter was signed by the leaders of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, Black Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Council, Getting to the Heart of the Matter, Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Economic Development Corporation, KC Common Good, Mid-America LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce, Prospect Business Association and South Kansas City Alliance.