‘Sincerely, I’m disappointed’: KCPD chief on failures in Crimes Against Children unit
After nearly three years, Kansas City police announced on Tuesday the conclusion of an internal investigation into failures in the Police Department’s Crimes Against Children unit.
Seventeen officers faced discipline, including seven who are no longer with the department, Police Chief Rick Smith said.
“I know we are better than this,” Smith said Tuesday morning at the Board of Police Commissioners meeting. “I want to apologize to the children and families who did not receive the service they should expect from us.”
The investigation began in the fall of 2015 when Police Department officials learned that detectives failed to properly investigate many rapes, child molestation cases and other crimes against children. Smith said the cases involved generally took place between 2011 and 2016.
In several incidents, alleged perpetrators went unpunished and young crime victims were denied justice. In at least one case an offender went on to hurt another child.
At the end of 2017, police officials said the investigation was finished and under review.
One year later, Smith announced that he would make public statements about the investigation at Tuesday morning’s meeting.
“This investigation took considerable time,” the chief said. “We did not want to sacrifice a thorough review for expediency.”
The conclusion of the investigation “marks the end of a regrettable time period” where Kansas City police failed to serve these victims, Smith said.
Smith largely attributed the failures to the division’s organizational structure and also “identified personal failures among commanders, supervisors and detectives,” such as failing to address large individual caseloads.
One detective was trying to investigate 80 cases a month, Smith said. Another inherited 72 cases on the day he joined the unit.
“Their pleas for more people and more resources went unheard by command staff,” he said. “There were no processes in place within this organization to address the issues of detectives’ caseloads growing too large.”
Now, a sergeant and captain are required to review each detective’s caseload every month.
During Smith’s remarks Tuesday, officials displayed 28 binders of investigative files accumulated during the three-year probe of the unit. Smith said 149 cases were identified in which serious problems were found in the investigators’ work.
The discipline meted out to the 17 officers ranged from disciplinary counseling to termination, Smith said.
Smith said state law prevented him from naming those who were disciplined, and he said that the internal investigative files are not public records.
In fact, Missouri law does not prohibit police officials from discussing disciplinary actions. In 2015, police officials did publicly discuss the temporary suspension of almost all of the officers in the Crimes Against Children Unit.
Missouri public records law allows some personnel records to be closed, but it does not require that those records be closed.
Of the families in the 149 cases, Smith said “most, if not all” have been notified of their case’s status.
In his remarks Tuesday and in a blog post published online, Smith described a series of reforms within the troubled unit and across the department meant to prevent future failures.
The division now has an entirely new staff, with two sergeants and 10 detectives — two more detectives than it had before.
“Staffing for this section will remain a top priority,” Smith said.
The unit’s name has also been changed to its previous name, the Juvenile Section.
Quality control measures have been implemented department-wide, Smith said.
“We have reviewed thousands of cases to ensure both patrol officers and investigators have followed up thoroughly and in a timely fashion on their assigned cases.”
All commanders have also received leadership and ethics training “to enhance accountability and prevent complacency at every level of the organization.”
Among other organizational safeguards, or “checks and balances,” the Police Department has strengthened relationships with child advocacy groups, Smith said. These organizations include child advocacy centers in Jackson, Clay and Platte counties as well as regular meetings with Children’s Mercy Hospital case workers.
The department hopes to “co-locate” its Special Victims Unit with the Child Protection Center and the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault to a central location or “one-stop shop,” Smith said. Here, victims of physical and sexual abuse could receive all services to meet their needs.
“We have worked diligently to recover from this setback and get justice for every child in Kansas city who has experienced abuse or neglect, especially those in the 149 cases we identified,” Smith said.
Child advocates and those who treated child sex abuse victims said they are pleased that there will be a resolution to the investigation.
Prior to the 2015 investigation, detectives seldom showed up to forensic interviews where specialists recorded child victims describing the crimes committed against them.
“At the time it was frustrating,” said James Anderst, a child abuse pediatrician and director of the child abuse and neglect division at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
“The challenge with it is the law enforcement agency is on its own, we can’t make them do something, and we can’t force them to do anything,” Anderst said. “We can only ask them to do better; ask them for more information but it’s their purview whether they want to provide us that information or collaborate.”
“And so everyone kind of knew it was a black hole but there wasn’t a lot that we could do about it,” he said.
Since the problems came to light and the department undertook its review, things have improved, Anderst said Tuesday.
Still, as the years passed it seemed the Police Department investigation was taking a long time.
Weeks before Tuesday’s announcement, Anderst said in an interview that the length of the investigation “means either that they are being very, very careful and thorough or very, very slow and I don’t know which of those are true.”
“As someone who works in this scope, it is a little frustrating that it is taking this long but there may be reasons for it.”
After hearing the chief’s report Tuesday, Anderst said he was hopeful that the changes made by the department will make a difference.
The type of co-location plan outlined by Smith is the “gold standard” around the country for child protection services, Anderst said.
“It sounds like they’’re committed to lasting improvement and change.”
Mike Gennaco, principal at OIR Group in Southern California, an organization that specializes in police oversight and review, said it seemed that the Police Department has taken positive steps forward. He applauded the department’s investigation into supervisory lapses rather than focusing solely on detectives.
“That’s always a good sign,” he said.
Gennaco said the department’s push to strengthen its relationships with child advocacy groups is “good to see” and the idea of co-location to provide victims with a single place to access services is “certainly more convenient for victims.”
Though he said it was interesting the investigation took three years to conclude, and that the industry standard is six months, he insisted “thoroughness certainly wins over timeliness.” He said the complexity and number of individuals involved in this case could explain why the investigation took as long as it did.
Based on the information that has been released, Gennaco said, “it sounds like they are moving forward in the appropriate way.”
When the Police Department in 2015 suspended seven detectives and two supervisors — almost the entire Crimes Against Children Unit — it took an “unprecedented” step, Smith said Tuesday.
But the full scope of the failure was not immediately made public.
The Star reported in 2016 that police memos identified nearly 150 cases that had been “severely mishandled,” in some cases showing “gross negligence” by detectives and possibly deceitful attempts to cover up omissions.
Investigators found that detectives neglected to work on some cases for months, misplacing evidence in desks with no note to indicate what case it belonged to.
A relative of a Platte County child sex crime victim said her faith in the detectives was shaken because it took so long to investigate abuse allegations and arrest the suspected perpetrator.
“He was able to reach out to her through other family members and convince her not to go ahead with her case,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified because of the nature of the allegations. The Star generally does not identify victims of sex crimes.
In that case, two girls separately told Kansas City police in July 2014 that Jordan Lomas, then 18, sexually molested them.
Both girls recounted specific details of their assaults in interviews with social workers recorded on video. Yet little was done while Kansas City detectives were tasked with investigating the reports.
Another victim came forward seven months later.
Lomas later pleaded guilty to statutory sodomy and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
“It makes me angry that I tried to do my part to stop something like this from happening to somebody else and it ended up happening again anyway,” the relative said. “The fact that he was able to run the streets so long after this and affect so many other kids, that is not OK.”
Internal police documents identified the suspended detectives as Gleanice Brown, Latondra Moore, Tamara Solomon, Amy Klug, Robert Roubal, Travis Menuey and James Foushee.
They, along with two sergeants, were removed from the unit and moved to other positions in the Police Department. Klug left the department months before Tuesday’s announcement, while others were transferred to patrol assignments.
On Tuesday, police said one of the suspended sergeants, Roy Murry, is no longer employed at the department.
Detectives Foushee and Roubal are assigned to the Investigations Bureau. Solomon is in the Executive Services Bureau, while Menuey, Moore and Brown are assigned to patrol.
Moore and Brown both were alleged to have mishandled many cases and engaged in deceit to cover their actions.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker became so concerned about those two detectives that she wrote a highly unusual letter to then-Police Chief Darryl Forté declaring the two detectives unfit for police work.
Baker demanded that neither detective respond to 911 calls or handle evidence.
With a new group of detectives, the Crimes Against Children unit has shown marked improvement, according to several people who work with the investigators.
“The Crimes Against Children Unit is tasked with investigating some of the most difficult crimes police and prosecutors encounter,” said Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd. “Over the past several months, initial investigations have been timely, and there has generally been a good response to our requests for follow-up.”
There may be many other police departments throughout Missouri that lack the oversight to ensure crimes against children are properly investigated, said Anderst, of Children’s Mercy Hospital.
“People particularly in small towns don’t go to become law enforcement officers so they can go after child molesters,” he said. “They are interested in other things, they want to catch the bad guy with the gun and stuff like that. These (child abuse) cases take a lot of work and a lot of dedication and it is a lot easier sometimes to let them go and forget about them.”
“This is a tip of the iceberg situation,” Anderst said.