The building that houses the police department in Kent will have a new name by the end of the month. It’s a minor change, but one that officials hope will provide some clarity to anyone who might believe that the Robert E. Lee Memorial Building is named for the general who led the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.
“Chief” will be added to the front of the building’s name at a ceremony at the end of the month, making clear that the building is named for Chief “Bob” Lee, who served as the head of Kent police from 1948 to 1966.
The name came under scrutiny in August during a national conversation about the appropriateness of Confederate war memorials, which has resulted in the removal of statues in numerous locales across the country. At the time, a commenter on the Kent Police Facebook page asked what the department was planning to do about the name on its building. Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke responded by talking about the former police chief during her August 15 report before the Kent City Council.
In addition to serving as police chief, Lee was a member of the Kent City Council from 1968 and 1972, was a hearing officer for the school district, and founded the Kent Juvenile Court Committee. He was also the membership salesman for the Kent Chamber of Commerce in the ’80s. It was in that role that he first met Cooke.
“Chief Lee was a great ambassador for the Chamber of Commerce,” Cooke said in a release announcing the rededication. “The business people respected his knowledge and integrity. When combined with Bob’s people skills and soft sense of humor, he proved very successful in sales.”
Vicki (Lee) Schmitz, the daughter of the man who led the police force for 18 years, spoke about her father to the Kent Reporter soon after concerns over the building name were raised.
“He was the most honorable man ever and one of the most respected men,” Schmitz said about her father.
Born in 1911, Lee was named after the general, said Schmitz, adding that doing so was a common practice at the time. He also passed the name along to his son, Robert E. Lee Jr.
The ceremony will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 30, at the police station, 220 Fourth Ave. S.