Reed Buente wasn’t the tactical officer who kicked down the door, looking for a bad guy.
He was the unassuming bespectacled detective behind the computer who discovered the bad guy’s hideout.
“SWAT guys are what you see, but they didn’t get there by happenstance,” said Sgt. Eric Greenwell, Buente’s supervisor in the Kansas City Police Department.
They got there, Greenwell said, because Buente pulled clues from complex cellphone records and computer databases to find people who didn’t want to be found.
On Wednesday, Buente, 57, retired from the Kansas City Police Department after 30 years of service, 26 of them in three detective assignments. He worked nearly seven years in homicide before being asked to join the department’s first gang squad. In 2001, he was picked for the prestigious career-criminal squad.
His work earned him 164 letters of commendation.
“He received at least five official letters of commendation every year,” Greenwell said. “That’s about one every other month. That’s unheard of. And most of them are for catching bad guys.”
For most of his career, Buente toiled behind the scenes. His name appeared in the newspaper a handful of times. Yet he worked on some of the area’s biggest cases.
He used cellphone analysis to find Shauntay Henderson, an alleged gang member who made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted fugitives list, holed up at a boyfriend’s Northland apartment in 2007.
He covertly followed Shon Pernice in 2009 and saw Pernice dump his wife’s dog at a Northland park after Pernice said his wife disappeared while walking the dog. Though her body never was found, Pernice eventually pleaded guilty to killing her.
Buente worked on the Waldo serial rapist case in 2010, using his cellphone skills to eliminate possible suspects and save investigators valuable time.
When he left town in 2009 to drive his daughter to a church camp at the Lake of the Ozarks, police called for his help to find two masked intruders who had taken turns raping a woman in her Northland home. The robbers beat her and her husband and stole a cellphone, two laptops and a television.
Over his phone, Buente helped officers write up a search warrant to get access to the victim’s cellphone records, then told officers they could find the suspects at a pawnshop on Truman Road.
Officers arrested two suspects, who still had the victims’ belongings. Later convicted, they were sentenced to 255 years and 415 years in prison, respectively.
Buente worked on just as many cases that didn’t make the news, such as parental abductions and domestic violence-related kidnappings.
“He’s truly saved lives,” Greenwell said. “He has gotten cars stopped on the highway and located numerous missing children and kidnapped people.”
He never turned down a request for help, co-workers say, even from outside agencies. His personnel file is packed with letters from such police officials. An Olathe official thanked him for helping solve a homicide. Overland Park sent several letters, including one for help with a large stolen auto ring. He helped solve burglaries in Shawnee and find an accused child molester from California who was hiding in Holt, Mo.
A St. Louis homicide sergeant wrote that if Buente was indicative of the caliber of police officers in Kansas City, “your department can be justifiably proud.”
Buente grew up in Warrensburg, Mo., and got his first job at age 8, using his bicycle to make home deliveries for his father’s pharmacy for 10 cents per delivery. One customer was the Johnson County, Mo., jail, where Buente befriended the sheriff and became interested in law enforcement.
Buente’s father wanted him to take over the pharmacy, but Buente graduated from Central Missouri State University with a criminal justice degree. He worked as a police dispatcher and reserve officer in Warrensburg before moving to Kansas City in 1982.
Within four years, he was assigned to homicide. In 1988, he documented the crime scene after an explosion killed six Kansas City firefighters. The intense heat vaporized one firefighter’s clothes, except for his duty belt. The radio still worked and Buente could hear the fire dispatcher calling for the fallen firefighter.
His sergeant, Troy Cole, remembered Buente as a hard worker — the first to volunteer for an assignment and the least likely to complain. Even then, many of his strengths were behind-the-scenes work.
“He could go through a mound of paperwork faster than anyone else,” Cole said. “He could knock out search warrants and arrest warrants. He just had a knack for it.”
Buente embraced computer technology early, never forgot a name and gained a reputation for not giving up.
When the department formed its gang squad, Sgt. Dave Starbuck wanted Buente.
“He had the reputation of being very tenacious,” Starbuck said. “He was the kind of guy who, if he got ahold of a trail for someone, he wouldn’t let go. He was quite the bulldog.”
Starbuck called Buente his “Radar O’Reilly,” after the character on the television show “M*A*S*H.”
“I would give him an assignment and he would, one way or another, get it done,” Starbuck said.
While in the gang squad, Buente asked to work on one of his old homicide cases that involved gang members and an innocent victim: Russell Haden, 18, who was killed while playing basketball.
Four years after the killing, Buente and another detective spent weeks following the man they believed was behind the wheel in the drive-by shooting. Then they spent months trying to get him to spill what he knew. Eventually, he talked. The two gang members who fired into the crowded park were sent to prison.
After three decades of being on call, and after 10 stents and a quadruple bypass surgery, Buente said he’s finally ready to retire from law enforcement.
But he’s not ready to leave the department. He plans on working as a civilian analyst in the narcotics and vice division.
“It’s what I know,” he said.