By Seann McAnally
Residents from all over Kansas City came to the Hillcrest Community Center on July 6 for the first of three public hearings on what qualities residents want to see in a new police chief. Current chief Jim Corwin is retiring in September.
In general, the 15 people who spoke all said the new chief should be from Kansas City, and should have experience with urban populations and violent crime. Further hearings were held at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center and at the Kansas City Police training facility in the Northland.
“We need a chief with the courage to speak against wrongdoing,” said Keith Brown, a minister in the Independence Plaza neighborhood. “We need to find someone with a genuine commitment to fight crime…I believe that we have that chief here in Kansas City and we don’t need to go outside of KC to bring that person in.”
City Councilman John Sharp spoke, though he stressed he was there as a private citizen, not a city official.
“I’m just here as a citizen and I have no official say, not more than anyone else in this room,” Sharp said. “This decision may well be more important than any other decision the commission has made in a long while.”
Sharp said the new chief should be a local person.
“I want a chief who knows geography,” he said. “I want a chief who knows where Ruskin is, where Ivanho is. I think we do have good internal candidates, and I think it should be one of those, rather than someone who will require a long learning curve.”
Sharp caused some raised eyebrows among the commissioners when he said, “Our homicide rate is too high. There’s no reason our clearance rates should be as low as they are. Drive-by shootings are up. I think we need a chief who is committed to involving the community. I realize my comments don’t sit well with some people, but this is too important of an issue to be silent on.”
Sharp stressed the importance of community involvement, and he praised staffers at the KCPD’s south patrol headquarters for working with residents in his neighborhood to reduce break-ins.
“Some neighborhoods in Kansas City are pretty safe,” Sharp said. “But some sure aren’t. We need them all to be safe.”
Ryan Hunt, who lives in the 5th District, said the new chief should be African-American.
“For the last 15-20 years, every chief presented to us has been Caucasian,” he said. “In my view, African Americans are the most abused by police. It’s about time we had somebody who looks like us…that knows our community. We don’t need to play games and do outside…we’ve got who we need right here. Let’s give our brothers a fair chance at this.”
John Modest Miles, also of the 5th District, said the reduction of violent crimes and the recruitment of minority officers should be the most important issues the commission considers when choosing a new chief.
“It should be someone who understands what it is like to grow up in Kansas City,” Miles said. “We need someone with strong relationships with the Kansas City community.”
He said administrative skills and experience are important, but he urged the commission to hire an experienced homicide detective as chief.
“Too many shootings and killings are occurring,” he said. “Administrative skills are important, but it is equally important that the next chief has experience investigating homicides.”
Ossco Bolton, a former gang leader who now runs programs to reduce gang violence, said a new chief should be one who is not “afraid to lock arms” with the urban community. He described how a police officer in his neighborhood – roughly 39th and Prospect – sometimes get out of their cars to talk with kids.
“Sometimes they’ll get out and throw the football around,” Bolton said. “That means a lot.”
Jim McInerney, president of the board of police commissioners, said the board would continue to accept applications from all over the country, and that it would consider all eligible candidates regardless of where they are from.
However, he pointed out that historically, the commission has tended to promote from within the Kansas City Police Department.
Some commissioners opined that the public’s concern over hiring a local candidate stemmed from a Kansas City Star editorial that said the new chief should be an outsider.
McInerney said the commissioners will accept applications until July 25, and then narrow down the field of applicants to a few who will be featured in another public hearing before any decision is made.