Darryl Forte searches for an answer to the homicide rate.

KC's first black police chief wants
a city without victims 

Darryl Forte searches for an answer to the homicide rate.

Page 5 of 6

"Community policing can be defined in many ways," Pruetting says. "It's been referred to as a policy. He's making it a practice. The old mission was to partner with the community. But we're not partnering with the community — we are the community. It breaks down the culture of us versus them."

Over four hours that day, Forté was inside a community room down the hall, sitting down with citizens individually. Community organizers, professors and members of Forté's family all sat waiting while Sgt. Mike Schofield called them in one by one and crossed their names off a list on his clipboard.

The tone of most of these conversations (many of them about the city's homicide rate) was more optimistic than confrontational. Hopeful was the word that Atziri Tovar, the youth and community liaison for the Mattie Rhodes Center, used to describe her sit-down with the chief.

"He was welcoming and wanted to help," Tovar says. "He has an open door for us, and what else can we ask for? It's going to be difficult, but I'm hopeful. We have to trust the police, that they'll work for us."

Tovar is also part of the Latino Advocacy Taskforce, a two-year-old group that advocates for victims' families. Within 48 hours of a crime, the LAT provides financial support, counseling and — when necessary — coordination of funeral services. It also works to set up communication between those families and the police, which is one reason that Tovar is pleased with Forté's pledge to visit the Northeast satellite of the Mattie Rhodes Center in the next month.

"It's inspiring. It makes us want to keep going, having him there," Tovar says.

Forté believes that these forums can kick-start trust between police officers and citizens. The chief says he'll know that this is happening when more calls come in to investigate nonviolent crimes.

"One way I'll know we're making progress is if property crime goes up," Forté says. "Although those numbers should then go back down, if we're doing our job."

Engaging the community is one of the challenges faced by the chief in the coming months, but it's his relationships within the department that may ultimately determine the success of his initiatives. Sgt. Brad Dumit, president of the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police, has found Forté to be respectful and open in the initial talks with the FOP.

"Forté's done a great job," Dumit says. "His sense of being able to listen to people, truly listen to them and dissect what they're saying, means a lot."

The prevailing feeling around the department is that Forté's rank hasn't changed his approach to policing but, rather, is changing those around him. Commanders are moving into the field, and officers are now being graded on their positive interactions in the way they may have been evaluated in the past on ticketing or traffic stops. Forté is holding colleagues to the standards he has set for himself.

"As a commander, he was what I would call a people person," Easley says. "He's an effective leader because he can communicate what he's done and what his expectations are."

The mayor says his new chief's early days will be critical to finding a long-term solution to combating violent crime in Kansas City. "A problem this entrenched doesn't turn around in five days, five weeks, five months or maybe even five years," James says. "But it's the foundation that's being laid out there now."

Forté is less than 60 days into his tenure as chief, but he seems to understand that the gravity of the homicide issue, combined with the inevitable political pressures of the job, requires him to think about a succession plan.

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