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KC's first black police chief wants
a city without victims

Darryl Forte searches for an answer to the homicide rate.

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Forté received a letter in the mail telling him that he had been declined and should not reapply to the academy. He reapplied the following year. Forté again passed his polygraph test and this time was admitted, although only after two potential cadets dropped out at the last minute. In 1985, he earned his associate's degree from Penn Valley Community College and was sworn in as a KCPD officer.

"I knew from day one that I could do things differently," Forté says. "I thought, We can change things."

The young beat cop began filling what would become dozens of notebooks, critiquing his own actions and those of his superiors. He started with the simple things, such as whether he checked the trunk on a routine traffic stop. By this time, Forté had learned to be more reserved in offering his opinion; on the force, he earned a reputation as someone who listened before he spoke, which gave more weight to what he did say.

Former Police Chief Rick Easley, now the president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission, was Forté's commander in the personnel division (now called human resources) nearly two decades ago.

"What I always appreciated about him was, he didn't hesitate to ask you the hard questions," Easley says.

By then a sergeant, Forté was responsible for overseeing the recruitment and hiring of officers. Easley recalls that Forté often gave candidates on the verge of disqualification one last look.

"We didn't always agree, but he would always be willing to look through my window and see what I was seeing," Easley says. "You can change his mind if you can make a good enough case. He's not bullheaded."

Forté sat down with the KCMCC last month and agreed to name a sergeant as a liaison to the commission's Second Chance Program, which helps more than 3,000 ex-offenders merge back into the community. That decision reflected something Forté had told the Board of Police Commissioners a month earlier: that the input of ex-offenders was needed in developing a comprehensive plan to combat violent crime.

"You don't just drop out of the sky with salt-and-pepper hair and become chief," Easley says. "But I think Darryl knows what he needs to do, and that's to develop as many partnerships as he can."

During his time in personnel, Forté also continued his own education, observing that the police force was moving away from the traditional path of recruiting ex-military and looking to cadets who were college graduates. Forté earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice administration from Park University in 1990 and a master's degree in management from Baker University seven years later.

Gary Palmer, a part-time instructor who recently retired from Baker University, remembers Forté as thoughtful, polite and studious. "His presentations were succinct, well-organized and easy to follow," Palmer says. "I really appreciated his serious approach to the class. He was very thoughtful in the contributions that he made."

Forté's skills as a communicator have allowed him to relate to people in and out of uniform. In 1998, he began conducting community surveys, approaching citizens at bus stops and other public places and asking for a few minutes of their time. He wanted their frank opinions of the police and the job they were doing. The surveys were always anonymous, meant to tell him whether people were disillusioned or encouraged by the actions of the department. He has kept up this practice, off and on, ever since. "I have some in my car right now," he says.

"Chief [Forté] gives us credibility with the community from the beginning," Pruetting says. "It's a sincere change of culture, one where we're not going to be adversarial. We're going to build trust."

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