Editorials

KC police must restore public trust after failures in children’s crime unit

Crimes against children deserve immediate and special investigation to ensure youngsters’ safety, eventual recovery and to prevent the perpetrators from doing more harm.

But that didn’t happen in the Kansas City Police Department’s crimes against children unit, where detectives for years failed to properly investigate some rapes, serious abuse and other crimes.

The blue police wall for months hid this irresponsible and incompetent behavior. The Kansas City Star on Sunday exposed the problem with a review of internal Police Department memos.

Police Chief Darryl Forté in January correctly suspended nearly the entire crimes against children unit of detectives and sergeants after a special squad was assigned a year ago to help clear backlogged cases and discovered the inexcusable problems.

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However, Forté has failed to be fully transparent with the public about what occurred in the unit. He declined to be interviewed and wouldn’t allow his command staff to publicly talk about the unit’s deplorable conduct.

That’s unacceptable when the unit’s failures have let down children, their families, hospital staff and child welfare workers while hamstringing prosecutors’ ability to bring perpetrators to justice.

Also lost is the credibility of police as key witnesses in many criminal cases. That’s no small matter. The crimes against children unit investigates about 1,000 cases a year of physical or sexual abuse, neglect, endangerment, parental kidnappings and custody violations.

The five-member Board of Police Commissioners, which oversees the department, also bears a lot of responsibility on this issue.

Accountability and transparency are necessary to ensure the public’s trust in the police. But the police board’s competence on this crucial issue has been badly harmed. Mayor Sly James, the only elected official on the state-appointed panel, shares that blame.

In response to The Star’s Editorial Board, James backed Forté’s overhaul of the unit, adding, “I expect appropriate actions to be taken to ensure that this situation never happens again.” The police board shares that responsibility with the chief.

People must be certain that investigations of crimes are timely, thorough and complete so charges can be filed and perpetrators of crimes against children will be put away.

But that didn’t happen. Maj. David Lindaman wrote in a Nov. 19 memo among hundreds of pages obtained by The Star: “Never in my career with the KCPD have I seen such a systematic failure.”

Numerous cases of crimes against children sat idle for months; 50 for more than a year, including one of a 4-year-old girl who had been raped and infected with a sexually transmitted disease.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said in a news release it was “heartbreaking” that the unit repeatedly violated the trust of crime victims, enabling perpetrators to commit more crimes. The criticism is right on point.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker deserves praise for complaining in the summer of 2015 about the difficulties prosecutors had trying cases from the crimes against children unit in court when police investigations took more than a year.

But instead of recently pausing, sighing and saying go to another question, Baker should have been forthright when The Star asked her whether detectives’ inaction had left children in peril.

The answer is obvious, and it should never be allowed to happen again.

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