KS Bureau of Investigation director to retire, handing Kobach major early appointment

Kansas Attorney General-elect Kris Kobach will soon have the chance to appoint the next director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, an early and significant decision as he returns to elected office.

KBI Director Kirk Thompson, who has been in the position for the past 11 years, announced Thursday he will retire on Jan. 10.

Whoever Kobach, a Republican, chooses to replace Thompson must be confirmed by the Kansas Senate. The decision will prove to be an early indicator of the direction the incoming attorney general plans to take.

The KBI is a division of the Kansas Attorney General’s Office and operates as the state’s top investigative agency. It frequently assists local police with major crimes and maintains a forensics laboratory.

The KBI’s announcement says Thompson began discussions about retirement “several months ago” and that KBI employees were formally notified in early November that he would retire — a sign Thompson planned to leave the agency regardless of the outcome of the race for state attorney general.

“Several well-qualified candidates have expressed interest in the position over the past few months and we are reviewing those options to find the right fit and experience to guide the agency into the future,” said state Sen. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican and a member of Kobach’s transition team.

Kobach last month narrowly defeated Democrat Chris Mann, 50.8% to 49.2%. The KBI wasn’t a frequent campaign topic, with Kobach often focusing on promises of suing the Biden administration and pushing for tougher sentences for drug trafficking.

In a statement announcing Thompson’s retirement, the KBI said Thompson during his tenure oversaw the agency’s opening of a new forensics science center at Washburn University, the expansion of its child victims unit and the creation of a cyber crime unit.

“I’m very proud of what this agency has accomplished over the past decade to safeguard the public, and pursue justice for victims of violent crimes. While many public safety challenges still face our state, I am absolutely certain the KBI will continue to successfully engage those challenges and strive to make Kansas a better place to live,” Thompson said in a statement.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, appointed Thompson to the position in June 2011, just a few months after he took office. Schmidt ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor this year instead of running for reelection.

On Thursday, Schmidt said Thompson had been an exceptional leader.

“Never drawing attention to himself, he always has insisted on the highest standards of professionalism and has moved the Bureau forward in so many quiet but critical ways,” Schmidt said in a statement.

Kobach, in a statement, said Thompson had a “long and distinguished career in Kansas law enforcement and we all owe him our gratitude for his service to our state.”

“I wish him the best in his retirement,” Kobach said.

The Star’s Katie Bernard contributed reporting