Gov. Laura Kelly selects DEA administrator to take charge of Kansas Highway Patrol

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TOPEKA — A national search led Gov. Laura Kelly to nominate Friday a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official to serve as superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol.

Erik Smith, who is expected to begin KHP duties on an acting basis in July, serves as the DEA’s assistant administrator and chief of the inspection division within the U.S. Department of Justice. He would be the third person to hold the Kansas law enforcement agency’s top job during the Kelly administration.

“I am extremely grateful for Governor Kelly’s confidence and am humbled by the responsibility to carry on KHP’s storied tradition of service, courtesy and protection,” Smith said.

Smith has been at DEA for two decades, including a stint as supervisor of a Kansas City field office. He was appointed in 2021 as chief inspector at DEA. In that posting, he had oversight of professional responsibility, inspection and security programs serving the agency’s headquarters and field offices.

He grew up in Ellsworth and earned a degree in criminal justice at Friends University in Wichita. He began his career in 1993 at the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office.

“I am confident he will draw upon his experience in law enforcement in Sedgwick County, in Kansas City and at the national level to strengthen the Kansas Highway Patrol and keep Kansans safe,” the governor said.

Kelly expressed appreciation for retiring KHP superintendent Herman Jones, who wrapped a 45-year career in law enforcement that included work at the statewide agency and as Shawnee County sheriff. Kelly appointed Jones in 2019 to replace the previous KHP commander, Mark Bruce, who was ousted for allegedly mishandling a sexual misconduct and domestic violence scandal involving one of his uniformed officers in KHP.

Jones was subject of a 2020 lawsuit filed by a pair of former KHP majors challenging their dismissal as retaliation for helping agency employees advance allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination against KHP officers.

In addition, Jones was a named defendant in an ongoing suit contesting constitutionality of KHP’s policy of transforming mundane traffic stops into extensive searches of vehicles in search of illegal drugs.

Kelly said Smith would begin serving as acting KHP superintendent and colonel July 7. His confirmation would be subject of a vote in the Kansas Senate.

The governor determined KHP Lt. Col. Jason De Vore would be acting superintendent during the one-month transition from Jones to Smith.

“I’m proud of the vital work and public safety mission the KHP carries out every day across the state,” De Vore said. “I look forward to continuing that service to the KHP and Kansas as the acting superintendent.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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