Page 2 of 6
It was Forté's sense of urgency that led the Board of Police Commissioners to select him from a pool of five candidates, including Deputy Chief Kevin Masters and retired Deputy Chief Vince Ortega. It was an urgency expressed by a 37-page action plan that he submitted to the board: "One Community, One Vision." In it were 221 "priority actions" and nine "individual strategic objectives."
"He had a plan," says Mayor Sly James, who sits on the board. "It was well-thought-out and inventive. He was also very willing to make changes in how things were done. He was willing to be bold and a little bit controversial."
Forté transferred 52 officers within the department the week that he was sworn in, and he has committed additional resources to four designated "hot spots," areas that together cover roughly 13 square miles of the city. Last week, he added a sergeant and six detectives to the department's gang squad. But Forté says his actions so far haven't been a direct response to the late autumn's wave of violence. Instead, they're moves that the new chief has been calculating, in some cases, for decades.
"It was necessary to change the culture, when people are entrenched in their positions," Maj. Jim Pruetting Jr. says. "He took them out of their comfort zone."
Forté is the fourth of five children. The youngest son of Willia Forté-Davis was going to be either a race-car driver or a police officer. But first he had to graduate from high school, one of Forté-Davis' requirements for her children. The single mother was strict. Forté remembers that the kids in the neighborhood called her "the warden."
"I never expected to raise boys," Forté-Davis says. "I expected to raise men. That means being accountable for your actions and keeping the promises you make. If you can't keep it, you have to give that person a reason why you can't keep it."
In those days, Forté and Richardson were inseparable, heading out to the store together or sleeping overnight in a two-story fort they built in the woods next to their Stratford Estates neighborhood. When Forté was in the sixth grade, he met a police officer and asked what he needed to do to join the force. The patrolman responded that he could never smoke or drink. That advice, coupled with his mother's insistence that he live a good life, formed the basis of Forté's own strict character.
"I do believe in the underdog," Forté-Davis says. "I always have, and that's the reason that I told him to think for himself. I said that if something feels like it's right, then you have to pursue it."
After graduating from Ruskin High School in 1980, Forté began taking college courses and working. "I was fired off nearly every job that I had before the police department," he says. Sometimes it was the job — a McDonald's shift that went on too long for a young man's taste. Sometimes it was Forté — a disagreement about the way his supervisor at a bank had treated a co-worker. The young Forté could be brash and sometimes confrontational. His sense of fairness — a compulsion to tell the truth — sometimes overwhelmed his job-preservation instincts.
The first time he applied to the Police Academy, he was rejected because, as he puts it, "They thought I lied on my polygraph." He had passed the test, but the proctors refused to believe that he had never smoked or had never drunk alcohol. He says that's still true today.