80+ churches call on the Board of Commissioners to fire KCPD Chief Smith
On March 18, the Heartland Presbytery released a letter calling for the KCPD Board of Commissioners to fire Chief Smith. The Presbytery includes 81 congregations, 11 worshiping communities, and 173 ministers in western Missouri and eastern Kansas.
“We are asking the Board to no longer ignore a Black community that is in deep, relentless pain and out of patience and white Kansas Citians now also unwilling to settle for vague promises of reforms that somehow never come to pass,” read the council’s letter, signed by its interim executive presbyter, the Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper.
The Presbytery said in the letter that the board had a “moral obligation” to dismiss Smith since he will not resign, citing his inaction and general lack of transparency. The letter also cites the distrust Smith has fostered in the community, the lack of dealing with excessive force complaints, and Smith’s unwillingness to investigate or punish the excessive force of KCPD officers.
“Too many problems are being swept under the rug,” the letter, addressed to the board’s president, Don Wagner, read. “Eventually, the ‘dirt’ under that rug will harm the entire city in a way all Kansas Citians will all regret if we do not take action now.”
The lack of transparency from the KCPD is one of the main points of the letter, and what Heartland sees as an urgent need for new leadership.
Heartland Presbytery also cited the KCPD’s obstinance and unwillingness to work with Jean Peters Baker, the Jackson County Prosecutor. Baker has been open about her problems with the KCPD’s intractability in giving her office probable cause statements in officer-involved shooting and excessive force cases. Baker has since hired a former KCPD sergeant to handle use-of-force cases.
“It is the duty of concerned people, even if an uncomfortable one, to no longer be silent over Chief Smith’s total lack of a working relationship with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker,” the letter said.
The Presbytery also urged the BOPC to address the racial makeup of the force, and how Smith continually fails to do so.
“It is urgent that the Board of Police Commissioners open their eyes to the reality that under Smith’s leadership, the department is whiter than when he took this job three years ago,” the Presbytery said in the letter. “Its officers have shot and killed twice as many Black men as were shot and killed during the first three years under the previous chief.”
The letter is a step by the Heartland Presbytery board to address racism and inequality in Kansas City. Although they recognize that Kansas City’s problem with policing will not end with Smith gone, but that it’s a start. In addition to this letter, the religious organization began implementing anti-racism and implicit bias training, anti-racist book readings, and providing a conversational resource list in hopes to begin work on fixing issues of race in Kansas City.
The organization is joined by a long list of others—including the NAACP, Urban League of Kansas City, MORE2, and Kansas City councilman Eric Bunch—who want Chief Smith out of the KCPD. Bunch also criticized the board for their inaction on dealing with Smith.
Linwood United Church is one of the 14 Kansas City congregations that make up the Heartland Presbytery. The church voiced their support for the letter on their Facebook page.
“We are a member of the Presbytery’s Urban and Immigrant Ministry Network, and we are proud to stand in solidarity with those who have called on Chief Smith to resign,” Linwood United wrote in a Facebook post. “We need new leadership, that is, someone who will require KCPD officers and staff to obey the law and who will require that officers enforce the law equally and stop harassing, harming, and killing black people and others. When your police chief won’t even cooperate with your prosecuting attorney, you know there’s a serious problem.”
The letter called for the board to replace Smith with someone outside of the KCPD, in order to truly bring change to the force.