KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The U.S. 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 inquiry in a letter sent Monday to the Board of Police Commissioners and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. It did not elaborate on how it 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 it had been decades ago, that Black officers were disproportionately disciplined by KCPD, and at least 18 officers had left because of racism over a 15-year period.
Interim police chief Joseph Mabin vowed in a statement to cooperate fully with the investigation.
“I am committed to ensuring every member experiences a safe and fair work environment and every applicant receives fair treatment throughout the hiring process," said Mabin, a 22-year veteran of the department who is Black.
Schmitt declined to comment on the announcement.
Jeanene Kiesling, a spokeswoman for the local union the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police, didn’t immediately return a text message seeking comment.
Mabin, who has said he does not plan to seek the permanent position, replaced embattled Chief Rick Smith, who is white. Smith retired this spring after 34 years in the department, the last five as chief.
Civil rights activists pushed for years to have Smith retire or be fired, citing his department’s handling of excessive force complaints and the shooting of Black men by officers.
Mayor Quinton Lucas, who also is Black, said during a news conference that he was frustrated the Board of Police Commissioners, a state-appointed board that controls the city's police department, did not discuss the investigation during a closed meeting on Monday.
“We cannot just be responsive time and time again to new lawsuits, to new investigations from federal officials, to voices outside,” Lucas said. “This department, and its board, need to be the ones that are launching these types of investigations to make sure we are doing right by our community.”
Several community groups immediately applauded the announcement that there would be a federal investigation, including the Urban League of Greater Kansas City and the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity.
The Department of Justice stressed in its letter that it hadn’t reached any conclusions and a spokesperson said Monday that the agency had no comment.