Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith would leave his job on April 22 next year and still receive his regular salary — $189,000 — through the end of August, according to a retirement memo obtained by KCUR.
The Kansas City Police Department said on Tuesday that Smith planned to retire at some point in 2022. A published report by the Kansas City Star the same day said Smith was being forced out and that enough votes on the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners had coalesced around dismissing Smith.
Smith’s status became confused on Tuesday night after telling other media outlets that he wasn’t going anywhere.
A KCPD spokeswoman said Smith, a 34-year veteran of the department, was not available to comment on Wednesday.
The Board of Police Commissioners announced they would hold a closed-door meeting on Monday to discuss a personnel issue. No other details were immediately available.
Kansas City council members reached on Tuesday had no first-hand knowledge of Smith’s status. A text message from councilwoman Teresa Loar to her council colleagues appeared to push back against the idea that Smith was stepping down or being forced out.
“Just spoke with the chief and he said he has no plans to leave and does not know of any plans to make him leave. Just FYI,” Loar wrote.
A KCPD spokeswoman on Wednesday repeated the department’s statement from the day before that Smith planned to retire next year. Nathan Garrett, a former police commissioner, said he still expects Smith to retire in 2022.
Garrett, who was on the police board that hired Smith, said Smith had relayed to commissioners that he did not want to serve as police chief longer than five years.
Garrett, who stepped down from the board earlier this year after moving to Smithville, said Wednesday he doubted there were enough votes on the police board to dismiss Smith.
A request for comment to the five commissioners on the board, whose members are appointed by the Missouri governor and have oversight on Smith and the rest of the police department, was not answered on Wednesday.
Memo confirms meeting
The memo, in draft form and dated Nov. 23, bears the name of Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners president Mark Tolbert. In it, Tolbert writes that the terms of Smith’s retirement were based on a conversation on Tuesday.
Other records obtained through a Missouri Sunshine Law show a meeting between Smith, Tolbert and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas occurred in the city manager’s office on the 29th floor of City Hall on Tuesday morning.
“Again Chief Smith, thank you for your many years of service to the city and citizens of Kansas City,” the memo said. “The Board of Police Commissioners will be in touch with you to discuss and confirm the specific terms of your retirement & severance agreement.”
A KCPD spokeswoman on Wednesday said Smith had not received the retirement memo.
Tolbert, in an email obtained through a Sunshine Law request, said he forwarded the memo to the police board’s attorney and would send it to all the commissioners and Smith once he heard back from the attorney.
Smith, hired in 2017, faced a tumultuous term as police chief. Several civil rights groups have long demanded Smith’s resignation, calling him an ineffective leader and ill-equipped to adapt to changes in modern urban policing. Last year, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker wrote a letter to the Justice Department in support of a proposed investigation into the police department. She cited several examples of excessive force by KCPD officers and added that there’s no accountability within the department.
Last Friday, KCPD detective Eric DeValkenaere was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Cameron Lamb, making him the first officer in the department’s history convicted of shooting a Black person in the line of duty.
This story is part of a collaboration between KCUR and the Midwest Newsroom, an investigative journalism initiative including KCUR, IPR, Nebraska Public Media News, St. Louis Public Radio and NPR.