With the word chief added to the police headquarters name on the outside of the building and a new portrait in the lobby, city leaders are confident the story of Kent’s Robert E. Lee will resolve any confusion with Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
City officials and guests gathered Thursday in the police station lobby to rededicate the naming of the building after Chief Lee, who led the department from 1948 to 1966. Mayor Suzette Cooke also unveiled a portrait of Lee for the lobby’s west wall.
Under Lee’s photo are the words: “Beloved by the Kent community for his connection with young people, superior professionalism and community leadership.”
Cooke and Vicki (Lee) Schmitz, the daughter of Lee, initiated the effort to add chief in front of Lee’s name to help calm any controversy about whether the building is named after the general. The dissension came up last summer after someone posted a comment on the Kent Police Facebook page, asking what the department was going to do about the name on its building after the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., over the removal of a statue of Lee.
“I guess I should say thank you to the individual who wrote on the police Facebook page inquiring why would we dedicate a police headquarters after Robert E. Lee,” Cooke said at the rededication ceremony at 220 Fourth Ave. S. “Well, this is why – the story of Kent’s Robert E. Lee.”
Schmitz, of Seattle, spoke about her father to the Kent Reporter in August and later talked to the council to tell Chief Lee’s story and help clear up any confusion after Charlottesville. Her father was born in Kentucky in 1911 and named after the general, a common practice during that time, Schmitz said. Lee grew up in Montana before joining the U.S. Navy at age 18 in 1929. He decided to live in Seattle after his four years of service, went to work later for the King County Sheriff’s Office and then became Kent’s chief.
Chief Lee died in 1985. The city dedicated the police headquarters in memory of Lee on Sept. 18, 1992, with the large words, “City of Kent Police Department Robert E. Lee Memorial Building,” on the west side of the facility facing Fourth Avenue South. City Hall expanded in the early 1990s when crews remodeled the old King County library to accommodate the police department, which had been in City Hall.
Ed Crawford, Kent’s police chief from 1991 to 2006, attended the dedication in 1992 as well as Thursday’s rededication ceremony.
“We were looking for the person that we could name our police department after and by gosh your father came just bobbing right out,” Crawford said to Schmitz and others packed into the small lobby. “What we saw was that Police Chief Lee was the one that developed the organization to be what it is today which I’m very proud of. …He was a great man and it’s a honor to have the police department building headquarters named after him.”