KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The US Department of Justice has opened an investigation into allegations of discrimination against black officers by the Kansas City Police Department that reportedly begins during hiring and extends to promotions and discipline. .
The federal agency announced the investigation in a letter sent Monday to the Board of Police Commissioners and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. He did not elaborate on how he was alerted to the concerns.
The announcement comes after The Kansas City Star published a series of stories examining allegations of racism and harassment within the city’s police force. The newspaper found that the number of black officers was lower than decades ago, that the KCPD disproportionately disciplined black officers, and that at least 18 officers had left due to racism over a 15-year period.
Acting Police Chief Joseph Mabin promised in a statement to cooperate fully with the investigation.
“I am committed to ensuring that all members experience a safe and fair work environment and that all applicants are treated fairly throughout the hiring process,” said Mabin, a 22-year veteran of the department who is African American.
Schmitt declined to comment on the announcement.
Jeanene Kiesling, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police local union, did not immediately return a text message seeking comment.
Mabin, who has said he does not plan to seek the permanent job, replaced beleaguered boss Rick Smith, who is white. Smith retired this spring after 34 years with the department, the last five as chief.
Civil rights activists pushed for years for Smith to retire or be fired, citing his department’s handling of complaints of excessive use of force and the shooting of black men by officers.
Mayor Quinton Lucas, who is also black, said in a tweet that he was canceling a trip with the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce to attend a more recently scheduled meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners related to the search for a new police officer.
“I know there is a lot going on today with KCPD,” Lucas wrote. “I look forward to more public discussion soon.”
Several community groups immediately applauded the announcement of a federal investigation, including the Greater Kansas City Urban League and the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity.
The Justice Department emphasized in its letter that it had not reached any conclusions and that a spokesman did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment.