The family of Anthony A. Belton Jr. wants to know why Kansas City police didn’t ask the public for help trying to identify the 24-year old man after his death. It’s a question that deserves an answer. And an issue that should spur an update to the department’s death notification policy.
Belton was one of four people killed in a fiery wreck caused by a driver fleeing Independence police in a stolen Jeep. The family’s frantic three-day search that played out over an agonizingly long weekend might have been avoided if the department had written protocols in place for such situations.
Police said they were unable to immediately contact relatives because Belton was not carrying any identification and had no fingerprints on file.
At the scene of the fatal wreck on June 1, Kansas City Police Sgt. Bill Mahoney informed the media there was an unidentified victim at a local hospital but offered few physical details.
Police officials didn’t act in bad faith. But the department’s process is lacking. Kansas City police have no written policy to address this issue. Such cases are handled on an individual basis.
The solution is simple, said Bill Hoy, clinical professor of medical humanities at Baylor University. Hoy is tasked with teaching pre-med students about end-of-life, bereavement, and trauma issues.
“The department could take the high road here and say, ‘Hey, let’s come up with a policy,’ ” Hoy said. “They can use this unfortunate incident as motivation.”
Having protocols or policies in place would not automatically mean that on a weekend, the situation would have unfolded much differently, Hoy added. But police could have easily released generic statements complete with a physical description of Belton.
The department has done that in the past. In 2016, officials asked the public to help identify a homicide victim by describing her height and weight, what she was wearing and the fact she had several tattoos.
Why didn’t police do the same in Anthony Belton’s case?
“Perhaps they would have done that anyway on Monday, but it sounds like the family had already found him,” Hoy said.
A three-day wait to find out your loved one has died is excruciating. No family should have to suffer through that uncertainty.
As Belton’s family has suggested, Kansas City police should develop a new policy so that no one else is forced to endure a similarly traumatic wait for answers.