After three years of investigation and review, a dark chapter in the history of the Kansas City Police Department appears to have come to a close.
An internal investigation, uncovered two years ago by the Kansas City Star, showed a massive failure in KCPD's Crimes Against Children's unit.
Chief Rick Smith revealed 28 binders containing 149 cases of abuse and neglect against children that were improperly investigated. Seventeen members of the unit were recommended for discipline, ranging from counseling to firing.
“The conclusion to our internal investigation of the Crimes Against Children section marks the end of a regrettable time period in which the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department failed to serve child victims in a way they needed and deserved,” Smith said before at a meeting of the Police Board.
Smith was asked how this massive failure came to be. "Organizationally, it just happened," he said. Despite the seven firings, Smith said, “None of these people are bad people that are involved in this. There was a bad situation and there was some individual responsibility that went along with it.”
Smith did stress that detectives in the unit had huge caseloads. One, he said, had 80 cases.
This came to light two years ago after the Kansas City Star uncovered internal police documents detailing the unit's many problems.
Among them the newspaper discovered:
- In many cases, detectives in the unit did no investigation
- Up to 50 cases sat idle for a year
- Detectives closed cases they might have solved without ever interviewing named suspects
Smith says the unit has shed its name and is now simply called the Juvenile Section. All commanders have undergone additional leadership and ethics training.
For the public, perhaps the most visible change will be the department combining its investigators with child advocates from various organizations in Jackson County and north of the river. “We believe victims will receive more comprehensive and convenient services by only having to go to one location,” Smith says.
Smith says the department is looking for a building and funding to make this transition.
At least one child advocacy organization has nothing but praise for KCPD's investigation.“While KCPD made mistakes, they owned them,” Lisa Mizell, CEO of the Child Protection Center told KCUR.
Mizell says most major cities have already paired investigators with advocates. It makes for a more robust investigation. “When you can walk down the hall and say, 'where are you on this? Are we going to see this kid, we’ve set the interview up for this time, can you be there?' It just fosters much better, richer relationships and collaboration.”
Mizell says the combined operation will be in the city and privately funded. An announcement is expected in a few weeks, she says.