By Joe Sweeney
Budget constraints or not, I have serious concerns regarding the leadership at the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, and sadly, it begins at the top, with Chief Daryl Forte. By way of history, I’ll tell you then-Captain Forte was nominated, endorsed by colleagues and selected by our editors for Ingram’s first class of our 40 Under Forty in 1998. Past honorees will tell you that a pretty strong bond is formed when folks earn a spot in our 40 Under Forty. So it truly bothers me when the chief neglects to return a dozen phone calls and several e-mails from a respectful business person and someone I considered a friend.
I have a great deal of respect for law enforcement, folks who put a lot on the line for us every day. But I believe the KCPD and citizens of this city are being ill-served. One example: I was pulled over—without cause—at a driver’s license checkpoint in April. Just 20 minutes earlier, I had my driver’s license with me, but had changed company vehicles to make a delivery. The checkpoint officer verified that I indeed had a valid license, but despite that, I was ordered to park and get out of the vehicle, then was arrested—led like a schoolchild with a firm grip on my arm by Officer Katharine Coots—to a police trailer where a dozen souls at a time were being interrogated, ticketed, and in many cases, taken to jail, and their vehicles towed.
After one demoralizing hour, I received a ticket. Court-date information was mailed out, but I would later learn that it was delivered—twice—to a home on a neighboring street with a similar street name. In mid-June, I received a warrant, accompanied by a hefty fine and more fees. I went to the courthouse and was told that I must have an attorney, and besides, no one from court would talk with me within an hour or so of the end-of-office hours. The women there did suggest I pay the $300 bond to address the warrant. Right. Got the attorney, paid him and the fines and fees, and called Chief Forte’s office the next day. His assistant, Capt. Woods, said it was unlikely the chief would respond to my e-mails and calls. I genuinely hoped that would not be the case. That hope was misplaced.
I’m not unique in receiving a frivolous ticket for the financial gain of a city, county or state, but I have to tell you, I’m still mad over this one, especially about being blown off by the chief of police and his colleagues. Then last week came another discouraging experience. Two of our company vehicles—TWO—expensive trucks were stolen from our company parking lot. We called KCPD immediately, but were told they no longer responded to incidents like this (Really? Grand larceny, auto theft!) and that we needed to physically go to and file a police report at the Central Patrol Division on Linwood Boulevard. A second trip included vehicle photos, which would not be accepted by e-mail.
The noticeably unproductive receptionist there said they would need to call in an officer or detective to begin the reporting process—and it might be up to four hours until they arrived. That is not a typo. “You see we’ve had 40 officers laid off at this precinct alone,” one of the officers reasoned. There were plenty of police officers around the precinct, but all apparently busy. As of the time of this writing, 9 days hence, the police report has yet to be completed.
As the publisher of the region’s leading business publication, I’d like to think I have some expertise in observing strong and effective business practices. Sadly, the KCPD, albeit one of the most important operations in the city, may be among the most dysfunctional.
Unfortunately, this is nothing new. In 2003, I was assaulted by a vagrant in our lobby of the Argyle Building at 12th and McGee. Nothing serious, but I thought it appropriate to call the police, headquartered exactly 1.5 blocks away. The perpetrator slowly walked out of the building and headed east on 12th Street, and I stayed across the street a half block behind until ironically arriving at the police headquarters at 12th and Locust.
Dozens of officers were coming and going, so I asked one to assist. “Not my job,” he said. “I’m getting off soon,” said another. Yet another said: “I’m in homicide,” so I suggested that he stick around. In all, I asked 13 on-duty KCPD officers to assist and not one would help. Just across the street, 60 feet away, sat my assailant, enjoying the show.
I tried to meet with then-Chief Rick Easley, but he could only talk by phone, which was apparently much better than what one can expect today. He was quite angered by what I told him about his officers, but said the department was challenged by city funding and that dissention in the ranks was very high.
Apparently today with recent budget cuts, the Police Department continues to encounter challenges. But I believe the symptoms suggest bigger problems.
I’m hopeful that the Board of Police Commissioners, the attorney general or some regulatory agency can help restore some level of fair and reasonable practices within an apparently flawed Police Department—and explain to its leadership the meaning To Serve and Protect.
Editor-In-Chief & Publisher