Kansas City, Kansas leaders meeting with four finalists to fill vacant police chief position

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s not an easy job, but the Unified Government of Wyandotte County intends to fill it.

Local leaders in Kansas City, Kansas have four finalists for the vacant police chief position, all of whom planned to meet the public in a Thursday evening forum streamed live on Facebook.

A recent panel of citizens expressed satisfaction with the four finalists seeking the new chief’s position, one of whom will lead the 339 officers at this agency. 

The four finalists include:

-Rich Austin, currently police chief in Milton, Georgia
-Vince Davenport, a former KCK officer, who now works for the U.S. Department of Justice
-Karl Oakman, a deputy police chief with the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department
-Pamela Waldeck, an internal candidate currently working as deputy chief in KCK

People from various neighborhood groups around Wyandotte County shared their thoughts on the candidates, including Paul Soptick, who works with Wyandotte Countians Against Crime.

In 2020, crime statistics showed homicides were up 67% in Wyandotte County from 2019.

“You need a good leader,” Soptick said. “Here lately, we have a little spike in crime, but this year, our crime is actually down. We’re working in that respect. I believe it’s all because of the transparency between the citizens and the police departments.”

KCK’s police department prides itself on its community policing practices. Kendal McReynolds, who works with the Turner Neighborhood Association, said the new chief will need to continue working with residents firsthand.

“It’s getting better and we want to keep it getting better. A big part of that is the police department, and a big part of that is how the chief runs it, so we’re real interested in that,” McReynolds told FOX4.

Interim Chief Michael York plans to retire at the end of 2021 from a department that serves 180,000 people. During a recent community interview, York said the academy is short-handed, but 12 new officers are about to graduate from Wyandotte County’s police academy.

“Our officers stay very busy out there. As a police department, we average about 415 call per day. That’s close to 150,000 per year that we get,” York said.

The new chief will inherit a department confronted with image issues, typified by the forced resignation of former Chief Terry Ziegler. That came after a female police cadet sued the department when she was fired for reporting a sexual assault — one that involved her supervisor.

Three of the four candidates have policing experience locally. McReynolds said local knowledge will be a big help, in his opinion.

“It’s almost a necessity. Wyandotte County is unique in the Midwest, as far as I know,” McReynolds said. “Fighting crime comes with the job. That’s what he’s supposed to do.”

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