Meet KCPD's New Chief, Rick Smith
The KCPD's new chief, Rick Smith, gets settled in his new role.
Five months after being sworn in as the KCPD’s 45th chief of police, Rick Smith is still taking it all in. “When I tell people that I’m honored to be sitting in this seat, I mean it,” he says. “I am honored. This is not something I take lightly or for granted.” Smith, who originally hails from St. Paul, Minn., joined the force in 1988, moving to Kansas City to pursue his boyhood dream of becoming a police officer. From there he rose in the ranks, taking on many roles, including serving as commander of the Central and East Patrol Divisions, which ultimately helped prepare him for the top spot. 435 Magazine chatted with Chief Smith about new beginnings and his plans for Kansas City.
435 Magazine: Are you still getting used to being called “chief”?
Rick Smith: Yes. Some days when they say, “chief,” I look around to see where he is. It’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but it is an adjustment taking the top job.
435: Is there anything that has surprised you, going from an officer to chief?
RS: The amount of people who invite me to things. I mean I knew the chief got invited to some things, but I had no idea; the amount of requests for me to be at functions or events is very surprising to me. The funny thing is, and I’ve said it before on TV, for 29 years no one cared about Rick Smith. It’s a whole new world instantly.
435: What made you decide to go for chief?
RS: It wasn’t like my dream to be the chief; I just kept progressing through the department. And then the opportunity when Chief [Darryl] Forté retired and I thought what the heck, I’m going to throw my name in the hat and see what happens. I didn’t know at the time that I would be chief, I just thought I’ve done many things on this job and I thought I had something to offer in the leadership realm to help this department.
Chief Smith as a rookie in the '80s.
435: How would you describe your leadership role?
RS: I’m very interactive; I want to hear people’s opinions even if I don’t agree. I think I expect a lot from employees. I like to model professional behavior in an environment and I’m 100 percent blue; I’m 100 percent police officer.
435: You listed your primary goals for the department were setting up employees for success, reducing crime and addressing neighborhood issues, and becoming more efficient and effective through partnerships. Have these goals changed since taking on the position?
RS: No, the same three goals that I have to the board are the same three goals in the message that I sent to this department consistently. I like consistent.
435: What is the most important lesson that your father taught you?
RS: My dad taught me the value of hard work and that working for a goal means something.
435: What keeps you up at night?
RS: The thought of getting the phone call that one of our officers is hurt or killed. The violent crime in the city has me constantly thinking about what we can do better.
435: You came in during one of the murderous summers in KC. Where do you begin?
RS: Systems are already in place; I’m not starting from scratch. We have a police department; it functions. And our job here is to try and prevent crime and then address the crime that occurs. Are we looking at systems and what we can do to change to make us more effective in identifying and getting criminals arrested? Sure, every day. Are we looking at new prevention methods like having a social service coordinator at a division station? Sure, we’re looking at that, too.
435: How do you have a conversation with the African-American community? How do you bridge the gap?
RS: Here’s my deal on this. I think we as people have way more in common than in difference. You want to get up and have a beautiful life and go about your day and be successful. Now, do we know that in certain parts of the city that the African-American community has more crime? Absolutely. Do we need to try and bridge through that and work through that? Absolutely, we do. And we have to acknowledge not everything’s the same for everybody. Your background and my background are not the same. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want the same things.
435: How do you combat a “no snitching” mentality?
RS: A culture of things that aren’t right, whether morally or ethically, when you start something like that it’s hard to build it up. I tell my cops all the time, “When you stop someone for the right reasons and you’re doing the right thing, you build a firm foundation. And no matter what happens from that — whether you write a ticket, whether you let them go, whether you end up shooting and killing someone — if you’ve done it right in the beginning it makes all the difference in the end.” The same thing that we face out here within certain cultures is if we start out so negative, and with such dishonesty and not working for the right thing, you’re not building a firm foundation, you’re building a foundation full of cracks and leaks and it doesn’t hold together. And I think what we want to do, as a society together, wherever we come from, is to build that firm foundation that we can all stand on.
young rick smith
435: What is your take on people fearing police officers?
RS: From the police side of this, we don’t see our job as being that — I know I carry a gun every day and it’s with me every day, but 95 percent of what I do is [to act as an] ambassador, to help people, to be that person that helps. Do we do enforcement? Yes, but most of our job is a positive interaction with most everybody.
435: What are people surprised to know about you?
RS: My regular life is pretty boring. All my excitement comes through work. It’s a wonderful balance.
435: Do you have a New Year’s resolution for yourself or the city?
RS: I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. My goal here is to get Kansas City off the Top 10 most violent cities [list] in 2018, when it starts. That’s the goal.
To learn more about Chief Smith and his plans for KC, visit the police chief’s blog at kcpdchief.blogspot.com.