KC police chief finalists chosen amid criticism from local leaders. Here’s who they are

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners has narrowed its list of finalists for the job of the city’s next police chief to three, according to a news release.

The candidates are Kansas City Police Department Maj. Stacey Graves; DeShawn Beaufort, a commander with the Philadelphia Police Department and Scott Ebner, a retired lieutenant colonel and deputy superintendent of administration for the New Jersey State Police.

The board will consider who among them will replace Interim Police Chief Joseph Mabin, who was appointed in April following the exit of Chief Rick Smith.

The next chief will be tasked with leading a police force that has struggled to retain officers and restore community trust. The department has recently paid out millions to settle lawsuits and excessive use of force claims.

Within the past year, three former officers have pleaded guilty to assault. Last year, a former detective was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of a Black man.

A community forum will be held at 10 a.m. on Dec. 10, at the Robert J. Mohart Multipurpose Building, 3200 Wayne Ave. Residents will be able to meet the finalists and learn more about their qualifications and crime-fighting priorities.

Twenty-one people, including numerous internal candidates, had applied for the job. Two applicants withdrew early in the process, the board said. People of color or women made up over half of the initial pool. The police board met in a closed-door meeting in October where they whittled a list of six semifinalists to the final three.

But community activists and faith leaders have sharply criticized the board’s process, saying it was rushed, conducted behind closed doors and lacked input from residents and business leaders.

Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Kansas City Urban League, speaks outside the Jackson County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, during the trial of Eric DeValkenaere, who is charged with first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the killing of Lamb, 26, on Dec. 3, 2019.
Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Kansas City Urban League, speaks outside the Jackson County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, during the trial of Eric DeValkenaere, who is charged with first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the killing of Lamb, 26, on Dec. 3, 2019.

“The BOPC’s blatant lack of respect for the hundreds of residents across all sectors of this city who expressed our desire for transparency throughout the search for the new chief is unconscionable,” said Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. “Their tone-deaf behavior continues to make the case that Kansas City needs local control of the Kansas City Police Department.

“Without an opportunity to thoroughly interview the candidates and review their resumes, it is impossible for the community to make a fair and objective assessment of their capacity to lead this police department,” she said.

Other community leaders have also criticized the police board’s lack of transparency and community engagement.

“The BOPC missed a great opportunity to make equity, transparency, and community involvement and engagement a reality,” said Darron Edwards, lead pastor of United Believers Community Church, who previously worked on initiatives with KCPD.

“What I have realized again is that the police commissioners are state controlled. So, why should they engage with Kansas City other than to take our tax dollars and make state controlled decisions,” Edwards said. “I’m not saying the police commissioners aren’t good Kansas Citians. I am saying that they have shown since Rick Smith was fired that Kansas City voices are a distant second to the loud voices of Jefferson City.”

The city’s next top cop takes over at a time when the city’s gun violence and homicide rate continues to climb to alarming levels. The city has suffered 156 homicides so far this year.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating allegations of racist practices by KCPD in its hiring, promotion and treatment of Black officers.

The board’s final choice for police chief will oversee the police force of 1,161 sworn officers, which includes 42 recruits currently in the police academy and 510 civilian employees.

The next leader

In their only public meeting, the finalists will also share their plans to enhance community relations, increase accountability and promote diversity among the police department’s ranks.

Each of the finalists have years of experience that has ranged from routine patrol duty to having large units of officers under their charge.

Maj. Stacey Graves is the only internal and the only female candidate selected as a finalist.

She has served the past several weeks as an interim deputy chief, overseeing the Patrol Bureau. Graves is a native of Kansas City, Kansas, and joined KCPD in April 1997.

During her 25-year tenure with the department, Graves has been a patrol officer, a detective with the vice and narcotics unit and later was aide to former police chief Darryl Forté.

She was promoted to captain and was responsible for the department’s human resources unit, a supervisor in internal affairs and was in charge of the department’s media unit.

As a police major, Graves served as a division commander at the Shoal Creek Patrol Division in Kansas City, North and recently coordinated the department’s program where social workers were assigned to each of the six patrol divisions throughout Kansas City.

While attending the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Graves earned a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice. Graves also earned an Executive Master of Business Administration from Benedictine College. She previously served on the board for the Rose Brooks Center, which helps victims of domestic abuse.

Scott Ebner had been considered for police chief’s posts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Honolulu, Aurora, Colorado and Prescott Valley, Arizona.

He had worked for the New Jersey State Police for 27 years, beginning his tenure as a trooper and working his way up to lieutenant colonel. Prior to that, he worked for the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida.

In 1998, Ebner who was a state trooper, was accused of racial profiling after he pulled over a car suspected of erratic driving where a Black New York former county prosecutor was a passenger, according to The New York Times.

Patricia Hurt filed a complaint against Ebner claiming the stop was racially motivated. However, New Jersey State Police said several motorists called 911 and complained the sedan driven by Lescia Rosa, a Hispanic investigator in the prosecutor’s office, was driving erratically on a state highway, The Times reported then.

An internal affairs investigation later found the complaint “unsubstantiated and unfounded,” The Times later reported.

Ebner retired from the New Jersey State Police in March.

He removed his name from consideration for the police chief’s job in Aurora, Colorado after community groups including the NAACP branch there voiced their opposition because they were left out of the selection process.

The city ended up reopening its selection efforts.

In November 2020, DeShawn Beaufort had ascended to a position within the ranks of the Philadelphia Police Department where he could make an immediate and significant impact, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in May 2021.

At the time, Beaufort was being considered for the promotion to chief inspector which would have made him the department’s third-highest ranking officer. In that assignment, he was tasked with investigating officers accused of crimes and misconduct.

The Inquirer reported that Beaufort had long championed police accountability and sought ways to foster better relations with residents. He began his tenure with the police department in 1996.

During the probationary period following his promotion, Beaufort found himself the subject of an internal affairs investigation following a road rage incident.

Beaufort had just pulled into the parking lot of CVS when a motorist nearly struck him, then made an obscene gesture and threatened Beaufort, according to The Inquirer.

Details of the internal review were not released. But it resulted in Beaufort’s promotion being denied and he was transferred to another unit, the newspaper reported.

He was among eight candidates who were vying for the police chief’s job in Miami, The Miami Times reported in October 2021.

That job eventually went to Manny Morales earlier this year.

Observers of the Kansas City Police Department have said it is rare for someone from outside the agency to be chosen to lead the department. Historically, nearly every police chief has come from within the department’s ranks.

The only exception happened in 1973, nearly five decades ago when the police board chose Joseph McNamara, a former New York city police captain, to replace Clarence Kelley. McNamara’s tenure was tumultuous and he ended up resigning in 1976.

In its pursuit of a new police chief, the board hired Public Sector Search & Consultants, a California-based company to conduct a nationwide search for a new chief. The firm is led by Gary Peterson, who was the only executive search to submit a bid to help identify a slate of candidates.

The firm also conducted a national search for a police chief for Aurora, Colorado.

Ebner was one of two finalists for that job.

Tumultuous years under Smith

In 2011, when the police board looked for a successor for retiring Chief James Corwin hosted three public forums in south Kansas City, Midtown and in the Northland.

Darryl Forté, who is now Jackson County sheriff, was one of five finalists for the job and said candidates should engage with the community and hear about their concerns.

“If you give them multiple opportunities all over the city to present and listen to some of the citizens out there, they may decide that this is not a good fit for them right now,” Forté said.

When the police board selected Smith as the city’s police chief, they held several public meetings to get input from residents.

But the board convened only one public meeting where residents heard directly from Smith and Keith Humphrey, the other finalist.

Under that format, residents submitted questions via email to board members before the meeting, and those submitted questions were conveyed by a moderator rather than allowing the public to make extended comments.

When the previous police board selected Smith, commissioners chose someone they viewed as cut in the mold of the buzz haircut, squared jaw traditional cop.

Appointed police chief in 2017, Smith’s tenure was turbulent at times.

He faced significant criticism for his handling of excessive use of force by officers, specifically the killing of Black men, some of whom were unarmed.

Under Smith, the department publicly took the position that if an officer fired, it must be justified.

On Dec. 3, 2019, former detective Eric DeValkenaere killed Cameron Lamb as the 26 year old backed his pickup truck into his garage.

Minutes after the shooting, Smith was captured on audio concluding the “bad guy’s dead.”

In November 2021, DeValkenaere was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.

Eric DeValkenaere, center, is comforted by attorneys Dawn Parsons, left, and Molly Hastings. Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs announced on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, that he found Eric DeValkenaere, a Kansas City police detective, guilty in the fatal December 2019 shooting of Cameron Lamb.
Eric DeValkenaere, center, is comforted by attorneys Dawn Parsons, left, and Molly Hastings. Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs announced on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, that he found Eric DeValkenaere, a Kansas City police detective, guilty in the fatal December 2019 shooting of Cameron Lamb.

Smith contended with more backlash in 2020 when protests broke out in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer. Police in Kansas City fired tear gas upon protesters several times during the most intense days of the demonstrations. One encounter captured on video resulted in charges against an officer who pepper sprayed a teenage girl. A hearing in the criminal case is scheduled for Thursday.

That year also saw a record breaking number of homicides with 182.

The former chief also faced scrutiny about racism within the department. A Star investigation found evidence of discrimination, racist abuse and a system that forces Black officers out of the department on flimsy pretexts while keeping theupper leadership mostly white. According to the March story, the department had fewer Black officers than it did decades ago.

In September, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was launching an investigation into KCPD’s employment practices.

Many muted voices

Since Smith left the police department, countless community and civic leaders have urged the police board to take a different approach in selecting the next police chief.

Earlier this year, a coalition of 16 civic, faith-based and business organizations led by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce sponsored listening sessions throughout the city on what qualities residents want in their next police chief.

In those public forums, Kansas City residents said they want the next police chief to be more transparent, focus on building community trust, reduce homicides and have a clear crime-fighting strategy.

The coalition cited the results of those listening sessions in its Sept. 26 letter to the police board, calling for more public engagement as the candidates are narrowed down.

On Friday, the group said it was “extremely disappointed” that just one community engagement session was planned.

“Coalition members from the Northland, South Kansas City, and West Side were particularly concerned that their areas of the city are not being included in the process to hire someone for one of the most important jobs in our community,” the group said in a statement.

Winston Bowles with the Kansas City Law Enforcement Accountability Project said the city needs a chief who is willing to “call out the ‘bad apples.’”

“If the chief is to be successful, community relations must be repaired, and this can’t happen without accountability that starts with the chief of KCPD,” Bowles said.

Lora McDonald, executive director of the local social justice organization MORE2 agreed, saying the community wants a chief “who doesn’t automatically back the blue.” She added that the new chief should consider different training and that she leans towards someone from outside the agency.

Sheryl Ferguson, an organizer with It’s Time 4 Justice, said her greatest concern was having a board that is not in touch with the community.

“They made a decision based on lack of knowledge of what goes on in brown and black communities,” Ferguson said. “After the protest of 2020, transparency was demanded and they have neglected to provide that. How can you choose finalists without engaging with those community leaders that can help you make a better decision?”

Ferguson continued: “The monkey wrench has already been thrown in this selection process and we once again have no chance of getting a chief that would be good for this community.”

Attorney Henry Service, who led some of the 2020 protests, said it will be key for the incoming chief to first recognize there’s a problem. Then, “I think the engagement should take the format of community policing. That, he said, means “respect for the people who are being policed,” as well as working to make the department more reflective of Kansas City’s demographics.

The public can submit a question for Saturday’s forum here. The event will be streamed here.

In this file photo Henry C. Service, an organizer with Enough is Enough, spoke to the crowd gathered Sunday, May 31, 2020, at Mill Creek Park in Kansas City during a rally on the third day of George Floyd protests. Service said the event started with speeches and then transitioned to “a good old-fashioned protest.”
In this file photo Henry C. Service, an organizer with Enough is Enough, spoke to the crowd gathered Sunday, May 31, 2020, at Mill Creek Park in Kansas City during a rally on the third day of George Floyd protests. Service said the event started with speeches and then transitioned to “a good old-fashioned protest.”