Letter lays out terms for how Chief Rick Smith will leave Kansas City police

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When Kansas City’s Board of Police Commissioners meets Monday in closed session, it will likely have important details to work through regarding Police Chief Rick Smith’s coming departure from the department.

A draft agreement drawn up Tuesday and obtained by The Star says Smith will formally announce his retirement on March 1, 2022. It says he will continue to serve another 52 days before ceasing to lead the department, and that he will be paid through the end of August.

The letter was written following a meeting Tuesday between Smith, Mayor Quinton Lucas and police board president Mark Tolbert, at which the commissioners told Smith they had the votes to force him out. The Star reported the third vote, which would seal the decision on the five-member board, was from the newest member, Dawn Cramer.

The police department said Tuesday that Smith, who has served as police chief since August 15, 2017, will retire sometime in 2022.

A source on Wednesday told The Star that Cramer had been supportive of early retirement for Smith but was not ready to go as far as terminating him.

Cramer issued her own statement in an email to The Star:

“Reports regarding an anonymous source indicating my vote to terminate the Chief are untrue,” Cramer wrote. “He has announced his intentions to retire in 2022. I am very appreciative of his service to the city and he has earned it. I never stated my support to terminate his contract and he has my full support until he retires.”

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith

Cramer, a Northlander appointed in August by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, started her term when the state legislature was out of session. She will need to be confirmed by the Senate when it meets again in January.

Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, a Parkville Republican who has been supportive of Smith, declined to comment when asked about a possible vote by the commissioners on Smith’s position.

“I’m supportive of the chief, I’m supportive of the chief staying in the position that he’s in right now,” Luetkemeyer said. “My hope would be that any commissioner, regardless of who it is, would be supporting the police chief and also support the stability of the department. I think getting rid of Chief Smith at this critical juncture would be destabilizing to the police department.”

Smith’s planned retirement

In a police department statement Tuesday, spokeswoman Capt. Leslie Foreman said Smith had always intended to retire in 2022. When he was hired, he said he would stay no more than five years, she said.

“As per his commitment, he plans to retire sometime in the upcoming year,” Foreman said. “He will announce that date well in advance to ensure a smooth transition for the police department.”

However, Smith, who earns about $191,000 per year as chief, has repeatedly made public statements indicating he had no plans to retire. It was only when contacted by The Star on Tuesday with questions about his potential ouster that the police department announced Smith’s plan to leave.

Details of when Smith might retire were laid out in the memo dated Nov. 23. The letter was addressed to Smith from Tolbert.

“Thank you for your 34 years of service to the Kansas City Missouri Police Department and the residents of the Great Kansas City area,” the agreement read. “This memo is to confirm our conversation and are in agreement with the plan for your phased retirement.”

It continued: “The terms of understanding being; (1) you will retire from your position as Kansas City Chief of Police, (2) you will announce your retirement to the public on March 1, 2022; (3) Your last day on the job will be April 22nd, 2022 and (4) you will be compensated at your current salary through August 31, 2022.

“The Board of Police Commissioners will be in touch with you to discuss and confirm the specific terms of your retirement & severance agreement.”

Tumultuous tenure

The memo on Smith’s retirement came four days after a police detective was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of a Black man in 2019.

On Nov. 19, former Det. Eric DeValkenaere was found guilty by a judge of second-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the fatal shooting of Cameron Lamb.

Many community members have long called for Smith’s departure, citing the fatal shootings of several Black men by police, a tenuous relationship with the community which worsened last year during protests and an alarming number of homicides.

Police have killed several Black men in recent years including Lamb, Terrance Bridges, Donnie Sanders and Malcolm Johnson. Bridges and Sanders were unarmed. Circumstances surrounding Johnson’s death are still under review.

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

During the protests in 2020 calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality, protesters called for Smith’s resignation. Following the protests, the department got body cameras and began requesting police shootings be investigated by an outside agency.

Smith’s tenure as chief has also been criticized as violent crime has left hundreds of people injured in shootings.

Last year, a record 182 homicides were recorded in Kansas City, dozens of which have not resulted in arrests or prosecution.

The Star’s Jeanne Kuang contributed to this report.

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