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Forté rose rapidly in the ranks, receiving promotions under each of the five chiefs he served. While undercover in vice, he played the role of a recovering alcoholic at the clubs. In homicide, he worked the night shift, trying to keep a normal schedule for his wife, Lori, and two young daughters at home. It was as a major in the Violent Crimes Division that he caught his first high-profile case. Forté identified three separate crime scenes involving partially clothed women as possibly being the work of a serial killer. He was named the lead investigator on the case. While cameras taped for the A&E show The First 48, the officers broke the case. Terry Blair was arrested in September 2004 after an intensive 10-day investigation. He's serving a life sentence, convicted of killing six women.
In the episode that A&E eventually broadcast about the case, Forté is hardly the star of the show. In fact, he is never interviewed on camera. His arm can briefly be seen in one shot — "I didn't get out of the way fast enough," he explains.
"I just wanted to make sure the crime got solved," Forté says. "The people who want the cameras and the ribbons can have them."
The case didn't make Forté a TV star but it did cement his status in the department. And he says it taught him how to mobilize the force to achieve fast results. Having been on the job for 19 years, Forté knew which officers he wanted on the Blair investigation. In a departure from procedure, he had told those officers to approach their superiors and ask to be put on the case.
The Blair case was a swift, decisive victory for Forté, but he knew that solving one case wouldn't fix a bad neighborhood. The area where the bodies were discovered — along the Prospect corridor — was blighted. Forté saw an opportunity to involve himself directly in the community: as a property owner.
"During the Terry Blair investigation, I heard a lot of 'The city should do this or do that,' " he says. "I decided I didn't want to point fingers, so I looked in the worst parts of town and bought lots."
In 2005, he purchased five lots. At 2033 Prospect, he tore out a dilapidated set of steps where crack addicts liked to congregate. A few years back, he tried to sell a property 15 blocks farther south on Prospect, but the sign kept getting stolen.
"I found the guy who kept taking it, and he told me someone was paying him to do it because they didn't want me to leave. I haven't put up a for-sale sign since," Forté says.
The following year, he was named deputy chief and began working within the Executive Services Bureau. Then-Chief Jim Corwin had urged Forté to make that move. Understanding the budget and finances of the department were, Corwin told him, vital to the job that Forté saw himself in next.
Eight days after Richardson's slaying, Forté walked into the first of what he intends to be quarterly community meetings at the Robert J. Mohart Multi-Purpose Center. He spent 10 minutes shaking hands and introducing himself to people in a line near the door, politely putting off a TV news crew. Members of patrol divisions, the street crimes unit, and the gangs unit sat around tables, their roles identified by prim white tabletop signs. Hundreds of Kansas Citians had come out to talk about what was happening in their neighborhoods.