For the past year, the Unified Government’s county administrator has been slowly but strategically working on hiring a new police chief for the Kansas City Kansas Police Department. This spring, County Administrator Doug Bach finally narrowed the applicants to four and introduced them to the community.

Finally, it looks like what has been more than a year-long process may be coming to an end.

During the past year, Bach, who is charged with appointing the new police chief, held numerous meetings with community organizations and created community surveys to hear what Wyandotte County residents want the new police chief to prioritize and where KCKPD needs to improve. “I hope everyone understands that this is not a decision I take lightly,” said Bach in a presentation about the future of KCKPD. “It’s one that I feel is a large part of my responsibility – making the right choice for our community”

A Troubled Department

Since 2019, Michael York has served as the interim police chief, but he plans on retiring at the end of this year. York stepped in as interim after former Police Chief Terry Zeigler retired, amid protesters’ demands for his firing due to his close connection to former KCKPD Detective Roger Golubski. For years, Zeigler was the partner of Golubski, who is accused of misconduct and sexually assaulting several women in Wyandotte County.

Under York, community trust in the department has continued to dwindle as more victims of police misconduct continue to come forward.

 “We know multiple women who have been raped and/or sexually harassed by law enforcement and there needs to be an indictment of all responsible,” said Kiku Brooks, chairperson on the MORE2 Board of Directors in a statement. “We look forward to a new chief who represents the interests of the broad community, not the interests of a few in uniform.”

Community Input

Bach has received more than 200 responses to a survey he put out requesting Wyandotte citizens input on improving KCKPD. An overwhelming number of the respondents wanted to see more transparency within the department and a greater prioritization on diversity and inclusion. In addition, more than 60% of respondents wanted to see the new police chief prioritize improving community relations.

Bach said many of the interview questions he asked candidates came from conversations with community leaders and the survey results. After Bach narrowed down the pool of 20 candidates, the top four participated in an assessment center of simulated exercises in high stress situations and interviews with neighbor hood groups, the police union and a Blue-Ribbon Committee with public representatives including District Attorney Mark Dupree, Salem Missionary Baptist Oakman Church Senior Pastor Rev. Tony Carter and Rachel Jefferson, executive director of Groundwork NRG. Members of the Unified Government Commission also publicly interviewed the final candidates last week. 

THE FINAL FOUR

The first candidate interviewed was Vince Davenport, associate deputy director U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance, which provides national leadership in criminal justice policy and training for state and local law enforcement. Davenport also served in KCKPD for 25 years, where he held increasingly responsible positions including assistant police chief, director of police training and commander of the Com-munity Policing Unit.

Davenport discussed the importance of the department reflecting the community it serves and that everyone should have a seat at the table. He said one goal he would achieve is creating the Chief’s Committee on Safety and Inclusion to involve the community in developing policy and strategy.

“When we develop policies, we need to have community members from all walks of life,” said Davenport.

The second candidate, Pamela Waldeck is currently KCKPD deputy police chief and director of the Bureau of Operations. She started her career at KCKPD in 1997 and worked her way up through the ranks, serving also as captain and assistant chief of police. Waldeck also works in the community with youth programs: as a board member of the Sunflower House child advocacy center, and as a liaison to the Enough is Enough violence awareness campaign with KCK Public Schools.

Some of her objectives as police chief are to increase transparency, community engagement and com-munity policing and implement foot patrols, which she said would build relationships and foster trust. To increase diversity within the department, Waldeck said her goal as chief would be to hire two full-time recruiters.

“They’ll have the time by being full-time recruiters to cultivate those relationships and get in the churches and get in the community centers and really make a difference and make an impact,” Waldeck said.

Karl Oakman, the third candidate, currently works as deputy chief at the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department, where he has worked for nearly 30 years. He has worked with the department and the community to create several youth engagement programs, which he said have helped bridge the gap, build trust and set up young people for a career in law enforcement.

One objective Oakman said he’d achieve as chief is removing initial obstacles in the hiring process as a way to increase representation in the department. At KCPD, he implemented a program called Open Testing, which allowed those in the com-munity to take the police academy test if they had their driver’s license, removing the initial hurdle of trying to find their social security card or other paperwork, also eliminating long processing times. Oakman said the first time KCPD did Open Testing, they had the highest minority representation in a training class.

“There are people that cannot wait eight to nine months to get hired for a job, so we have to look at that process and figure out how to reduce that processing time, while maintaining all the requirements to be a police officer,” he said. “It can be done, but you just have to put the effort in and think outside the box and be innovative.”

The last candidate, Rich Austin, has served as chief of police at the Milton, GA, Police Department in the Atlanta area since 2017. Prior to working at the Milton Police Department, Austin served for 25 years at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC) Police Department, where he worked in a variety of command roles including area commander and internal affairs commander.

Austin said that as chief he would ensure new hires were people of integrity through intensive background investigations and to instill a strong disciplinary framework within the police department. Also, a strong proponent of keeping communication open between the community and the department, he said he would implement a board with members representing all communities to hear any concerns.

“Studies show time and time again, diverse teams are stronger teams,” Austin said. “We need to ensure teams within the police department are diverse. We also need to ensure that the command staff are also reflective of the community that we’re serving. By doing that, we are an overall stronger agency and a culturally competent agency.”

Bach will continue interviewing the candidates and considering feedback from the community and city officials. He has said he will announce the new police chief in May.

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