KCMO’s new police chief has clear vision for success

By Sarah Boyd, KCPD Public Relations Specialist

Richard C. Smith was all smiles on Aug. 15, 2017, and rightfully so. Because that was the day this 29-year veteran of the KCPD was sworn in as the city’s 45th “top cop.” “Being selected to be the Chief of the Kansas City Police Department is a great honor,” Smith said. “I am excited to lead the organization that I have grown up in, where I have been fortunate to build great relationships and friendships along the way.”

But Smith isn’t kidding himself about the challenge he’s accepted. Fighting crime in KCMO is serious business and, as the man designated to take over for former Chief Darryl Forté, Smith knows he needs cooperation on several fronts to succeed. Clearly, his many years on the force has prepared him for this opportunity. It took three public forums, hours of interviews and a final, public question-and-answer session with another finalist before the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners picked Smith from a pool of 42 applicants from around the United States. Originally from St. Paul, Minn., Smith has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Park University and a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Central Missouri. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.

Since joining KCPD in 1988 as an officer, he’s worked his way up the ranks, with assignments in Robbery and Homicide, Tactical Response, Planning and Research Division and Kansas City No Violence Alliance. Most recently he has commanded the East and Central Patrol Divisions.

“Having had the experience of being assigned to two Patrol Divisions, both East and Central, was a huge benefit,” Smith said. “When I attended the Senior Management Institute for Police, Chuck Wexler (Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an organization of law enforcement officials and others dedicated to improving the professionalism of policing) stated, that being in charge of a Patrol Division is like being the chief of police for that area, and how you run that division gives insight to those who do the hiring for a chief.”

The uptick in crime stats isn’t unique in Kansas City. Cities across the country are battling similar issues and expert observers say a key to reducing crime involves building stronger relationships between neighborhoods and police.

Smith agrees.

He said he’ll continue to stress the importance of working with neighborhood groups to combat crime and build trust, lessons he learned firsthand. Community Interaction Officers (CIOs) at patrol stations will play a key role in this effort. “They’re the point of contact for almost everyone in Kansas City,” he said.

CIOs often have more work than they can handle -- an issue Smith said he may address by assigning more staff to the position. He also is creating a CIO position to coordinate citywide events and address broader issues.

His three-pronged vision for the department is clear and concise:

  1. Set employees up for success.
  2. Reduce crime and address neighborhood issues.
  3. Become more efficient and effective through partnerships.

To set employees up for success, Smith said he wants to restore an internal audit unit to ensure the department is operating efficiently. He also wants every officer to receive Crisis Intervention Team training to better equip them to deal with individuals who are in a mental health or substance abuse crisis. Making better use of technology is another avenue that Smith plans to pursue. He’d like each station to create a database of neighborhood concerns and track how those are being addressed. He also wants to expand the program he implemented at Central Patrol, where a social worker was assigned to the station. He said the social worker uses community resources to address residents’ home-life problems that have become public safety issues.

Smith supports increased recruiting efforts in minority communities, emphasizing that policing is a noble profession. He also wants his staff to especially encourage minority candidates to climb the ranks.

The second point of his vision – reducing crime – will be the most difficult to achieve.

“The biggest challenge moving forward is working on the crime issue in Kansas City,” Smith said. “If I had one goal, it is to get Kansas City off the top-10 violent crime list. Even if that goal may be lofty, our department should work toward that goal every day.”