Veteran Kansas City officer chosen to lead police department

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 25-year veteran was chosen Thursday to lead the Kansas City police department, which is embroiled in internal and external controversies.

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners chose Stacey Graves, the current acting deputy chief, making her the first woman to become the permanent police chief in the department’s nearly 150-year history. Two other women have served as interim chiefs.

Graves, who was sworn in shortly after the announcement, takes over a department under federal investigation for possible racial discrimination in its hiring practices. And the board of commissioners announced this week that it will hire an outside investigator to examine a former city attorney’s whistleblower complaint that the department hid criminal case evidence and denied public records requests.

That comes after years of complaints from civil rights groups about officer misconduct and the department’s often secretive handling of excessive force complaints, leading to a strained relationship with the public in a city where about 28% of its 508,000 residents are Black.

The department also faces a shortage of officers at a time when Kansas City has a high rate of violent crime and homicides.

Graves replaces Joseph Mabin, who was appointed interim police chief when the embattled former chief, Rick Smith, left the department amid controversy in April this year.

Graves said during a news conference that one of her first steps as chief will be to build bridges so the department, city leaders and community members can work together to make Kansas City safe.

She also promised the department will be “an open book” while dealing with the U.S. Department of Justice investigation and other issues.

“I will be that front-facing communicator that this city wants and needs,” Graves said. “If there’s something that we’re doing wrong, the motto is ‘mess up, ’fess up and move on.’ And the ‘move on’ isn’t forget about it. It’s learn from it and move forward in a better way.”

Pastor Darron Edwards, one of several community activists who has criticized the department, said Thursday that Graves was the right choice to “hit the ground running” and address the community’s concerns.

“I believe she will be a communicator and a collaborator, which this city hasn’t seen from the police department in the last five years,” Edwards said. “The board, which I have criticized in the past, got this right.”

However, the Kansas City Law Enforcement Accountability Project said in a statement it was “incensed, unsatisfied, and frustrated” by Graves’ appointment, which it said was continuing the “status quo” in the department. It also criticized the board for not keeping promises to gather public input during the hiring process.

Graves joined the Kansas City police force in 1997 as a civilian in the records department. She had since held several positions including patrol officer, detective, internal affairs, spokeswoman and division commander.

Graves was the only Kansas City officer among the three finalists for the job. Mayor Quinton Lucas said Thursday that was not a deciding factor in choosing Graves.

He said the board focused on the candidates’ plans for making the city safer, a long-term vision to address violent crime, and ensuring any changes will have support from officers and community members.

Graves has a track record of working with community organizations, fellow officers, prosecutors and others, Lucas said.

“She’s somebody’s who’s going to do the work to make sure that past any personalities and any politics, we’re trying to get things done,” Lucas said. “And I think in connection with the DOJ investigation, any lawsuits, anything that comes up, you’ll see this department be as open as it can.”

Edwards said he hoped Graves would meet with consenting and dissenting voices to work on making the city safer in every zip code, ridding the department of “bad apples,” and changing the department’s culture, starting with her choices for four deputy chief positions.

“She has a big challenge,” Edwards said. “But I believe many people at the executive level are ready to help her move the department forward and away from (Smith’s) legacy.”

Tension also exists because Kansas City is the largest city in the U.S. that is controlled by a board of police commissioners, with is comprised of the mayor and four members appointed by the governor.

In November, Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment pushed by GOP lawmakers that gave the Legislature more authority over funding of the city’s department. The amendment accompanied a law passed during the last session that requires Kansas City to increase the amount of general revenue it spends on the police department from 20% to 25%.

Lucas and a community activist have sued over the arrangement, which has been in place since the 1930s, claiming it is steeped in racism and represents “taxation without representation.”

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This story has been corrected to show Rick Smith retired in 2022, not 2021.

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