KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A police unit set up to investigate crimes against children including rape, abuse and serious negligence failed to properly investigate thousands of cases, with some detectives doing no work at all, according to internal police memos that described “gross negligence,” ”incompetence” and efforts to cover up the problem.
Kansas City, Missouri, Police Chief Darryl Forte in April suspended nearly all the detectives and sergeants in the Crimes Against Children Unit. Another group has reviewed tens of thousands of cases to ensure they are properly handled and area prosecutors and child care advocates say they have seen major improvement since the unit was overhauled.
But hundreds of pages of police memos obtained by The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/2cRinD4 ) detail how serious the unit’s problems were, describing 148 “severely mishandled” cases and noting that many cases sat idle for months, with 50 idle for more than a year, including a report of a 4-year-old girl who had been raped and infected with a sexually transmitted disease.
“Never in my career with the KCPD have I seen such a systemic failure,” Maj. David Lindaman wrote in a Nov. 19 memo to a deputy chief. He blamed sergeants, detectives and commanders — himself included — “for allowing this organizational failure to develop over the past four years.”
Relatives of one victim told The Star that they had one meeting with a detective, who never contacted them again. They worried for more than a year that the child’s rapist was nearby only to find out he was in jail on another child rape allegation.
“These (detectives) are the people we called to protect us,” a relative of the 4-year-old told the newspaper. “I feel like they were just throwing our case away.”
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said it “pained” her to think about how the unit’s incompetence might have left children vulnerable to more crimes.
Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said his office prosecuted cases with old evidence but the investigators’ delays “exposed additional children to sexual abuse.”
Forté noted in a written statement that the department in April created a quality-control unit that has reviewed tens of thousands of cases but he could not comment on the internal investigation.
Police commanders knew of the unit’s problems as early as 2011 but a sergeant’s request for help to deal with the situation was “met with resistance from command staff,” Lindaman wrote in a memo.
A memo from Sgt. Michael Seward, an extra supervisor assigned to help clear the backlog, said it appeared several members of the unit tried to cover their tracks through “deception or possibly an intentional cover-up of the failure to properly investigate.”
In January, after the special response team found serious discrepancies between evidence in the property room and a database listing evidence detectives had procured, Lindaman recommended removal of seven of the unit’s eight detectives and two sergeants. After about a week, the nine suspended officers were reinstated and reassigned to patrol units.
An audit begun in February that compared police records to prosecutor files from January 2011 through December 2015 showed detectives listed 216 cases as pending at the Jackson, Clay and Platte county prosecutors’ offices, when only 12 were waiting for prosecutors to make charging decisions. Charges already had been filed in 81 cases but detectives had failed to properly update records.
Prosecutors, social workers and child advocates said they’ve seen a marked improvement since the unit was overhauled.
Lisa Mizell, chief executive officer of the Child Protection Center, which specializes in interviewing children, said she’s noticed the change.
“I’ve been impressed with how they confronted it,” she said.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com