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Kansas City Police restarted its missing persons unit, but needs to build trust with Black families

T’Montez Hurt went missing on Feb. 1 at a Greyhound bus station on Troost Avenue. The 19-year-old's disappearance has become a rallying cry for better police cooperation by family members of missing people.
Mili Mansaray
The Beacon Kansas City
T’Montez Hurt went missing on Feb. 1 at a Greyhound bus station on Troost Avenue. The 19-year-old's disappearance has become a rallying cry for better police cooperation by family members of missing people.

A year after the Kansas City Police Department reinstated its missing persons unit, in response to criticism that officers weren't taken cases of missing Black people seriously, community members are still frustrated by a complicated reporting process.

T’Montez Hurt had just started working at a Price Chopper in Grain Valley to save money after a semester away from Missouri Western State University.

Then in the early hours of Feb. 1, the 19-year-old placed an anxious phone call to his grandmother, Tecona Donald-Sullivan, saying he thought he’d been drugged. The day before he’d had a mental breakdown and sounded distressed over the phone.

He asked his grandmother for her prayers.

She called 911 from St. Louis. Hurt was taken to a Kansas City hospital, where a urine test revealed no drugs in his system. Before he was discharged, his grandmother arranged with the hospital to call him a cab that would take him to a Greyhound bus station so he could return to St. Louis.

Security footage captured Hurt walking up to the door of the bus station at Troost Avenue and 11th Street before discovering it was closed. He then attempted to reenter the zTrip rideshare car. He’d left his cellphone in the car but the driver wouldn’t unlock the door. That was the last confirmed sighting of T’Montez.

Hurt’s disappearance ignited a communitywide search effort. Youth news platform KC Discover joined forces with his family to organize search parties. That outpouring of support reflects a rise of concern among residents regarding missing people in the area.

The Kansas City Police Department reports that Hurt is one of seven adults who have gone missing in Kansas City in 2024 and have yet to be found. That number likely represents only a fraction of missing people — many cases go unreported — yet it nearly doubles the four active missing-adult reports compared to the same time last year. And the increase in missing minors has been more significant, from seven at this time last year to 29 today.

The trend extends across the state. The Missouri State Highway Patrol reports a fourfold increase in active adult missing persons reports in Missouri compared to the same time last year.

Groups involved in finding missing people offer no single explanation for the rise. More active cases could mean an increase in disappearances. It might also signal a growing willingness by community members to report disappearances to police.

In Kansas City, police have revived the missing persons unit. Officers say they publish the number of missing peopleand communicate with the families involved with missing persons investigations.

Still, community leaders say families get frustrated that police sometimes won’t open a missing persons case without obvious evidence of foul play or unless their relative suffers from a physical or acute mental health problem. More broadly, families report a cumbersome process that makes it daunting to file a report.

“It’s about really catering to the needs of those families that have reported their loved ones missing,” said Damon Daniel, president of AdHoc Group Against Crime, an organization dedicated to fighting crime and violence in Kansas City. “Families (often) don’t feel like enough is being done.”

AdHoc has had a long-standing relationship with KCPD since its inception in 1977, when former police officer Alvin Brooks formed the organization to address the unsolved murders of Black women. The organization prepares videos and collaborates with the department on search parties and door-to-door canvasses, including one for Hurt.

KCPD missing persons unit

A woman stands between two men outside a stone building. They all have police badges around their neck. The woman in the middle is talking to the media (not shown).
Lawrence Brooks IV
KCUR 89.3
Maj. Leslie Foreman, center, speaking to reporters in front of police headquarters on April 11, where the department announced Chief Stacy Graves' decision to reinstate the Missing Persons Section.

KCPD is actively investigating T’Montez Hurt’s disappearance, police spokesperson Capt. Jacob Becchina said in an email to The Beacon. While a search party organized by KC Discover found a bone near Troost Avenue and 81st Street on April 13, it wasn’t human. A body discovered nearby by police triggered a separate ongoing death investigation.

Statistics show a rise in both adult and juvenile missing persons cases. The number of active missing juvenile cases in Kansas City lept from seven in the first four months of 2023 to 29 this year.

That increase follows the reinstatement of the police department’s Missing Persons Section in April 2023. Police Chief Stacey Graves reopened the unit in response to criticism that the department needed to put more effort into finding missing Black women. The unit had disbanded in 2022 because of staffing shortages. It now dedicates seven detectives and a sergeant specifically to missing person investigations.

“Re-dedicating a squad of detectives to focus primarily on missing persons provides a greater capacity to tend to the needs of those investigations,” the department’s spokesperson said in an email.

KCPD took a missing person report on Hurt on Feb. 2, the same day they were notified about Hurt, The Kansas City Star reports, but a flyer wasn’t posted on the department’s website or distributed to local media until March 27.

Community response

The case of Jaynie Crosdale shows the disconnect between law enforcement and Black communities, The Kansas City Defender founder Ryan Sorrell said.

Crosdale was reported by police as a potential witness in the case against Timothy Haslett Jr., who has been charged with kidnapping and torturing a young Black woman he picked up on Prospect Avenue in 2022.

Crosdale’s remains were later discovered in a barrel floating in the Missouri River in July 2023. Haslett has not been charged in her death. Sorrell said that when Crosdale went missing, Excelsior Springs police announced that she was a potential witness instead of a potential victim. He said the difference in that language matters.

“That scenario is indicative of how the police view missing Black people, more times than not, as criminals as opposed to victims who need help,” he said.

Sorrell said distrust of police because of historical criminalization of victims and police brutality makes it hard for police to rally cooperation in missing persons cases. Those suspicions of police have discouraged families from pursuing formal investigations. So many have taken on the work themselves.

The Defender has been receiving and amplifying community tips on missing people after it began to investigate the trend of missing Black women in Kansas City in 2022, Sorrell said.

“It continues to be an urgent crisis within our city that is not being adequately addressed — and is not even capable of being adequately addressed — by the police,” he said. “Many Black people don’t even feel safe going to the police department to report it.”

Black people make up 56% of all the missing persons reports in the past eight months, despite only making up 26% of the population in Kansas City, according to data from KCPD.

Families looking for missing people have also addressed the difficulty of filing a report. The department has no minimum time a person is gone before declaring them missing. But they must either have a life-threatening medical condition, be suffering from a mental illness or dementia, be suicidal or there must be strong evidence of foul play.

Kris Wade has seen this firsthand. She is the co-founder and executive director of The Justice Project, which advocates for women in poverty. She said families need to understand filing guidelines before approaching the police department.

“If they have the right information, they’ll start looking. But if they don’t have enough information, what can they do?” she said. “They can’t just send people out to aimlessly drive around the streets. That’s why people will need to do their homework before they go down there. Or to ask the police, ‘What do you need from me to make this work?’”

Daniel with AdHoc said police simply don’t have enough officers to conduct robust investigations into every missing persons tip, especially considering the number of violent crimes that take place in Kansas City. But he believes more can be done when families reach out.

“Does that mean that if I can’t file a report I’m not going to get any help at all?” he said. “That’s a little unacceptable.”

Becchina said that investigations are confidential and complex and require a unique approach for each case, but the department does what it can to be transparent.

“We publish the daily numbers and we are in contact regularly with reporting parties and available for follow-ups to answer questions when needed,” Becchina said.

Daniel said that KCPD needs to be straightforward about educating families on how to file a missing persons report and what to expect after one is filed.

“There has to be a better education to the public as to what those processes are,” he said. “They should put them (clearly) on their website. At least make it plain out there.”

Theda Wilson would agree. She founded Looking for an Angel in 2006, three years after her 9-year-old son, Christian Taylor Ferguson, went missing. The St. Louis-based nonprofit helps families find their missing loved ones.

Wilson said she’s had to be persistent with local law enforcement and the Missouri Highway Patrol to pursue missing persons investigations. She often has to remind officers, for example, that there is no time limit on an investigation when they insist that families wait 24 to 48 hours after a person goes missing.

“Most of the time these terms are new to them and they don’t know what to do,” she said. “They’re expecting guidance from a representative like a police department or a police agency to tell them what they need to do. I’ll go down there and I’m going to get some answers and I’ll stand there until they open their door and talk to me and their parents.”

This story was originally published by The Beacon Kansas City, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

Mili Mansaray is the housing and labor reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. Previously, she was a freelance reporter and Summer 2020 intern.
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