No matter where his legal work takes him, Nathan Garrett said it’s hard to stay away from the roots of his career.
“I have an eternal itch to have my nose in the business of law enforcement,” said Garrett, an attorney with Graves Garrett in Kansas City.
In April 2018, Garrett became president of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, a governor-appointed board that provides oversight to the Kansas City Police Department. The year marked his second year of service; he was appointed in 2017 by former Gov. Eric Greitens to fill the remaining two years of a resigning commissioner’s term on the board.
It’s a position for which he is uniquely qualified, as Garrett’s first passion was law enforcement.
While he was completing his undergraduate degree, he worked as a deputy juvenile officer and a commissioned sheriff’s deputy during the summers in his hometown of West Plains.
He worked for the police department there for a year after he completed college and before he enrolled at the University of Tulsa College of Law.
After he graduated from law school in 1995, he joined the Howell County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office as an assistant prosecutor. While the job represented an opportunity to work in the legal field in his hometown, he said he missed law enforcement.
He would go on to become a trooper for the Missouri State Highway Patrol — and the first lawyer to graduate from the academy — and later joined the FBI as a Special Agent. While stationed in Dallas, Texas, he became a special assistant prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, handling national security prosecutions.
In 2005, he transferred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri, where he became chief of the national security unit in Kansas City. He remained there until 2008, when he joined the firm that became Graves Garrett.
For the past 10 years, he’s represented clients facing federal investigations and commercial litigation.
His law enforcement career helped him to hone his investigation skills, which he said has helped him in private practice. His work as a prosecutor also has helped him to build credibility with federal prosecutors, which in turn helps him to advocate effectively for his clients, he said.
Garrett said his legal background also helps him as president of the board of police commissioners. He pointed to his problem-solving skills as an asset that began with his family but improved through his work in the courtroom and with his clients.
“I know how investigators and prosecutors approach problems, but I have my own style, then and now, of identifying the real problem and . . . given the realities of that circumstance, [finding] a solution to it,” he said. “That’s frankly what I feel I do best.”
For the rest of his term, Garrett said he expects to wrestle with weighty issues including police-body cameras, calls for local control of the department, resource management and violent crime.
Garrett said the board is doing all it can to address rising violent crime in the city. He said it’s a thorny issue because violence can be cyclical and some of its causes can extend beyond the ability of police to solve it.
He said his job as a police commissioner is to “figure out those tools that make a difference tonight.”
“I care about those more philosophical/conceptual, longer-term, broader issues . . . but I have to figure out what helps me tonight,” he said. “What’s going to help prevent one more homicide? What’s going to ensure that my officer comes home safely tonight?”
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