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As Kansas City Killings Soar, KCPD Makes Major Changes To Homicide Unit

Rebecca Hange
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City police have made big changes to the Homicide Unit after a consultant's report.

A consultant's report, written by two Los Angles murder investigation experts, is significantly changing the Kansas City Police Department's Homicide Unit.

It makes some fairly routine suggestions — create a "Murder Book" for each case and implement a 90-day unsolved investigation report, for example — but it also calls for more homicide detectives and a drastic change in the way suspects are given a Miranda warning.

The department received the 10-page report in July, but it has only now become public.

KCPD Chief Rick Smith alluded to the report when he announced the disbanding of the Mounted Unit, so the department could follow the consultant's recommendation to add eight detectives to the Homicide Unit.

Those additional detectives are expected to begin working Jan. 1, according to Deputy Chief Roger Lewis, who commands criminal investigations.

Perhaps the most controversial recommendation is doing away with a written Miranda warning advising suspects they have the right to remain silent.

A written warning has "the potential to lessen the likelihood of obtaining a valid waiver and can unnecessarily cause an invocation of counsel or silence," according to the report. In other words, once a suspect asks for a lawyer or decides not to answer questions, the chance of obtaining a confession or important evidence decreases.

The report said detectives can read the Miranda warning to a suspect in a videotaped interview, and if the suspect then answers questions, they've waived their right to remain silent.

The consultants wrote that detectives want suspects to talk as much as possible because "confessions may occur, but admissions, lies or false alibis, can also be important."

Lewis said KCPD has done away with signed Miranda warnings.

"It hasn't made a significant change, but we're hoping to see more of that over time," he told KCUR.

The Jackson County Prosecutor's office said it has provided training to KCPD officers on the Miranda issue.

The top public defender in Kansas City, however, foresees problems.

"It puts you at risk of eroding your right to remain silent," said Ruth Petsch, Kansas City District Public Defender. By signing a waiver, she said it’s clear to everyone that the Miranda warning has been given and understood.

The report also said KCPD should create a rank of detective with higher pay than the rank of officer.

"The only real incentives to become and remain a detective appear to be better duty hours, more days off and wearing 'soft clothes' instead of a patrol uniform," the consultants stated in the report.

KCPD rejected that recommendation and said a new rank would have to be approved by the Missouri General Assembly.

The report was paid for by the Department of Justice through its National Public Safety Partnership.

Sam Zeffis KCUR's metro reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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