A KCK native is KC’s first female police chief.

Photography by Barrett Emke.

From records clerk to police chief, it’s been a twenty-five-year journey for the Kansas City Police Department’s first female leader.

Department veteran Stacey Graves began her police career with the department in 1997 as a civilian, filing papers. Eventually she went to the police academy, and about four months ago, she became the city’s top cop and the first woman to hold the position in the department’s almost one-hundred-and-fifty-year history.

Graves, who grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, says being the first woman to helm the department is “awesome because I have women of all ages, races, backgrounds come to me and say they support me, and I think that’s great. But I also don’t want my gender to take away from my qualifications. I’m qualified. I’ve got the experience and the tenure, and I’m the right person at the right time.”

Tasked with finding a new police chief after embattled former police chief Rick Smith retired, the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners conducted a nationwide search but ultimately settled on homegrown Graves. At the time, Graves was serving as interim deputy chief of police for the department.

She has performed many roles during her tenure, serving stints as a patrol officer, detective, captain and supervisor in internal affairs and media relations.

“She’s somebody who’s going to do the work to make sure that past any personalities and any politics, we’re trying to get things done,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas told local news channel Fox4.

Graves was sworn in the same day she learned she had been selected. “We’ve just hit the ground running,” she says. “There is a lot to do. We’ve had some celebrations and we’ve had some sorrows. It’s been a lot condensed into the time I’ve been here so far.”

Graves has taken over the department during a difficult time. KCPD is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division for its hiring practices. The department is also navigating fraying relationships with the city’s power players and the communities it serves, as well as trying to heal after a long-time police officer and canine officer were killed in a car crash while on duty. 

“I think we can all agree that policing has changed so much probably within the past five to ten years—I think mostly for the good,” Graves says. “I think it’s an evolving profession.”

Graves says her top priority, coming into this position, was to work on the department’s relationships. “If you don’t have good relationships with people, you just can’t be successful,” she says. “Making sure we have those relationships with our neighborhoods, our communities, but also with our local leaders—we need to have a good relationship with City Hall, we need to have a good relationship with our prosecutors.”

Graves says she wants a progressive police department that is able to problem solve by listening and thinking in new ways.

“When I say a progressive police department, I mean forward thinking, innovative, mindful,” Graves said. “Policing is changing, and it’s changing so quickly. We need to progress along with those changes.”  

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