Kansas City Police Chief Finalists Share Ideas On Community Policing, Differ On Guns

Jul 27, 2017

Maybe the most obvious difference between the two finalists for the top job at the Kansas City Police Department is one’s an insider and one comes from out of state.

Major Rick Smith is a 29-year veteran of the Kansas City Police Department. Smith, 51, came to Kansas City from St. Paul, Minnesota, for a job with the department. He’s been on street patrol, homicide investigation and a member of the city’s anti-violence group, the Kansas City No Violence Alliance — a collaboration between law enforcement, city officials and community activists. Today he’s commander of Central Patrol, in the city’s urban core.

Keith Humphrey, 53, is currently the chief of the Norman, Oklahoma, police department. He was born in Dallas, Texas, and worked in Ft. Worth, Arlington, and the Dallas suburb of Lancaster where he served as chief.

On Friday, the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners will hold private interviews with each candidate. A decision is expected in August.

In interviews with KCUR, each candidates shared their views of a variety of issues. Below are some of the highlights. Interviews have been edited for clarity.

Norman, Oklahoma, Police Chief Keith Humphrey.
Credit Courtesy Norman, Oklahoma Police Department

On community policing:

HUMPHREY: "I think Chief Darryl Forté established that and it’s just making that stronger. It’s a partnership between the community and the police department, and the police department finally understands they can’t do everything solo and the community understands they can’t do everything solo. It’s a vested philosophy both entities have to help maintain [to keep] a high quality of life. It’s a collaborative effort between the community and the police to make sure the community is safe, growing and vibrant. When a community is safe, civic involvement grows. You see people out walking, pushing strollers and playing their kids.

"We realize we can’t arrest our way out of everything.  You can’t engage people sitting in a police car. And you can’t engage people just being reactive. You can’t engage people by me making all the decisions. You have to empower officers to get out and meet people and be problem solvers. It’s important that I set the tone and I set an example."

Kansas City Police Major Rick Smith.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

SMITH: "One of the things I do really well is connect with neighborhoods. I’ve had neighborhood leader forums. I wanted to get to know who the neighborhood leaders were, invite ‘em up to the station. What I say to those neighborhood leaders is 'You’ll be more effective the more you know your neighbors. Have a picnic, have a get-together, have a text thread. Whatever it is you can communicate with that will make you more cohesive so people look out for each other.' Strong neighborhoods have less crime.

"When I was at East Patrol and the verdict from Ferguson (Missouri) came out, we had community people calling the station saying 'If there’s any trouble in this community, we’re calling you and letting you know who (is causing trouble).' Those are built, established trust relationships saying we don’t want trouble and we’re gonna let you know before it happens."

On gun laws:

HUMPHREY: "I don’t have a problem with (concealed carry or open carry gun laws,) but (there) have to be some really strong regulations behind it. There has to be a lot of training. I have no control over those laws. No matter what my personal belief is, professionally, those are the laws we have to enforce. Those are the laws that are put in place for people to abide by.

"People that are committing crimes, they’re getting the guns anyway.  They’re being stolen from homes, they’re being stolen from cars, they’re being passed over from different states. The guns that are being used in these violent crimes are not necessarily guns that are legally owned."

SMITH: "As a police (officer) I don’t make laws. I enforce them.  If the state legislature says this is the law, I have no choice to say yay or nay, this is where I go.

"I think there could be some things that could help deter some gun violence without restricting rights, but that’s up to lawmakers to come up with that, it’s probably not up to Rick Smith to come up with that. Would I sit down to talk with someone about it? You bet.

"I don’t have the facts on (the relationship between loose gun laws and the high murder rate). Everyone says that’s the reason, I don’t know for a fact that’s what it is. Obviously we know the law changed and it seems our violent crime is going up now. Is that a coincidence or is that the fact from gun laws?  I have no way of knowing that.

"I think there are good people out there who carry firearms and there are criminals out there who are never gonna obey the rules with firearms no matter what they are."

On what the police department's goals should be:

HUMPHREY: "I want to lead an organization where everyone has a high level of competency.

"I will do audits. As a chief, I (will) have deputy chiefs who report directly to me. I have to know what their views and values are. If there’s not diversity in your unit, why’s isn’t there diversity in your unit? I’m talking about variety. Why do you have people that think the same way, why don’t you have any women, why don’t you have any minorities? People don’t like asking those questions. They get offended. (I’ll say), 'Don’t take it personally. Let’s see what we can do differently.'

"(I’ll do) a climate check in the organization. Do people think they’re being treated fairly? Do they think the community is responding to them?

"In my last two departments, I’ve been an outsider, and I ended up being a partner. At the end of the day (I want people to know) I come in as a person wanting to work as a team ... we’re all in this together. I want to move forward making Kansas City safe and making the department better."

SMITH: "It would be wonderful if we’re not one of the top ten most violent cities in America. That would be a great goal to walk out with. Obviously it would be great if we were 30th, or 50th. I don’t know how much one person could accomplish, the whole department is working on that every day. It would be wonderful if that stigma could leave us.

"I’d like to remembered for trying to work for the city and the organization overall, make the right decisions for the organization that help the community."

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. Reach her on Twitter @laurazig or email lauraz@kcur.org