Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith should never have agreed to attend GOP fundraiser

The Kansas City Star Editorial Board
·3 min read

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith only belatedly made the right decision Thursday. Only after he was criticized did he come to his senses and say he would not be attending a fundraising dinner for the Jackson County Republican Party after all.

Party officials had invited Smith to their Reagan-Lincoln dinner scheduled for April 17, to “recognize” the department’s work during 2020, Smith said in a statement.

“It is becoming apparent that my attendance at the event would be a distraction,” Smith said. “After careful consideration, I will respectfully decline the invitation to this event.”

It would not have been a distraction, though. It would have been a disaster.

“Never in Kansas City have I seen our apolitical appointees — be it a police chief, city manager, or fire chief — engage as featured guests/speakers in partisan political events or causes,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said in a tweet.

The mayor is correct. But let’s be clear: It is particularly wrong for Kansas City’s chief of police to be involved in anything that remotely resembles partisan politics, for several reasons.

For years, Smith and his colleagues have argued relentlessly in favor of the bizarre governance model that gives a state-appointed board of commissioners authority over the department. The police board system was set up, they claim, to insulate that department from political interference.

“The issue at hand isn’t really ‘local control’ but local political control,” Smith wrote in 2019, defending the state-appointed board. “We have operated this way since 1939, when rampant corruption caused the state to take control of the department.”

The police board hasn’t kept politics out of the department, of course, and there is little evidence it has made the department work better. But Smith’s appearance at the event would have injected visible partisanship directly into the highest levels of the police force, at precisely the wrong time.

Smith’s every decision would have been seen through a partisan lens, and rightfully so.

Still worse, the April 17 dinner is a fundraiser for the party. Smith would have been participating in an event designed to give one political party an advantage over the other. Is that what a Kansas City police chief should do?

Wait, it gets worse. The other guests who would have shared a meal with Chief Smith included Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a U.S. Senate candidate — the same man who endorsed and enhanced the big lie that Donald Trump was somehow cheated in the 2020 election. Schmitt bears some responsibility for the Jan. 6 riots that cost a Capitol police officer his life.

Eric Greitens is also scheduled to attend the fundraiser, the GOP invitation says. The Senate candidate and one-time governor resigned in disgrace, of course, after demonstrating a profound lack of respect for the law, and all women.

Imagine Kansas City’s chief of police in a photograph with Greitens, who left office to avoid both prosecution and impeachment after a Missouri House investigation into allegations that he’d sexually assaulted a woman found her sworn testimony credible.

Finally, Mark and Patricia McCloskey are on the RSVP list for the event. You remember the McCloskeys — the couple who raised weapons against protesters who marched near their St. Louis home last June.

The Jackson County GOP should be ashamed of asking the couple to come here at any time, let alone during the trial of the Minneapolis officer who killed George Floyd. But for Kansas City’s police chief to share a stage with them? In a city where disturbing excessive force complaints continue to grow? Unfathomable.

We have repeatedly called on Smith to resign or be fired, and he just keeps proving us right.