Monday, March 4, 2019

How we're working to interrupt the cycle of violence

There has been much talk about senseless violence in Kansas City, but a recent high-profile case really highlighted what senseless violence looks like and how one bad decision led to another and another. This case rightly received a lot of attention because the victim was a child, and she was shot where all children should feel safe – just outside an event at school.

A chain of tragic, senseless and completely preventable events started the night of Feb. 12 outside a high school basketball game. A 15-year-old girl was murdered in the parking lot at Central High School. An 18-year-old female student at the school and another 21-year-old woman are charged with her murder. It was the result of a dispute that started inside at the game. Instead of talking out their differences or splitting up to cool off, the suspects drove up to the victim just outside the school doors, and the 21-year-old opened fire on her. In her interview with police, the suspect told detectives she “may have overreacted and she wished she would’ve left.” She also said, “I let the fire go.”

Officers identified the suspects in less than an hour. Within 18 hours, they were in custody.

A few days later, on Feb. 16, detectives saw threats posted on social media between the victim’s and suspects’ families. They went to the homes of each to inform them police were aware of the threats and would be closely monitoring their actions. We call these Risk for Retaliation meetings. Later that night, detectives learned a family member of the victim even planned to be arrested so she could retaliate against the suspects inside the Jackson County Jail. Police and jail staff met and formed a plan to prevent that from happening.

The ridiculous violence continued at the funeral of the 15-year-old victim on Saturday, Feb. 23. Given the senselessness that led to her death and threats of retaliation, we assigned uniformed officers to watch over the funeral home and church during her services. They heard multiple gunshots in the church parking lot and saw a vehicle speeding away. They pursued the vehicle, which did not stop, ignored traffic signals and exceeded the speed limits, reaching 75 to 90 mph before it was involved in a hit-and-run collision. The three occupants of the car ran off, throwing two guns along the way. Officers caught all three occupants, and a police canine helped officers find the two loaded guns the suspects had discarded. One of the guns had been reported stolen. All three of those men – ranging in age from 19-22 – now face a variety of felony charges.

All of this violence was for what? What did any of this accomplish other than ending the life of a 15-year-old and ruining the futures of the two young women responsible for her death? What does shooting at the funeral – or any act of retaliation, for that matter – accomplish? No one ever won, the cycle of violence continued, and more lives were put at risk.

This was by no means the first act of violence at the funeral of a Kansas City homicide victim. It has occurred countless times, even in funeral processions driving on the highway. Funerals are supposed to be a time for family members and friends to remember the lives of their loved ones and reflect upon and grieve their loss. They are events that should be surrounded in respect. Yet people who perpetuate the cycle of violence in Kansas City turn funerals into armed conflicts. This is where family members and everyone in Kansas City can get involved. This is where the members of our community can say that kind of behavior isn’t welcome, and if anyone intends to bring anything but an attitude of respect to a funeral, they’re not allowed.

As a police department, we can’t make people have better conflict resolution skills. We can’t be there every time a disagreement over something trivial escalates into violence. What we can and are doing is working to interrupt the cycle of violence, like the aforementioned Risk for Retaliation work we did. It’s why our officers were conducting surveillance outside that funeral. It’s why we seek out and take seriously reports of threats of violence on social media. It’s why we’ve made a concerted effort to work with urban-core teens in programs like the Youth Police Initiative, Youth Citizens Academy and Police Athletic League. Through these and other outreach efforts, we’ve shared anger management tools and built a bridge of trust, so young people don’t try to take matters into their own hands.

But we’re only a small part of the solution. A young person who thinks a gun is the best way to resolve a dispute reached that point long before police became involved. We are doing all we can to interrupt the cycle of violence in Kansas City, but we need your help. Family members, friends and classmates: if you know a potential violent conflict is brewing, please tell us. If we know before an incident occurs, we can save lives. It’s only by working together like this that we can prevent these crimes.

Send comments to kcpdchiefblog@kcpd.org 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

With expanding technology, perpetrators of violent crime are more likely to get caught in KCMO

Within eight hours last week, detectives solved the murder of an innocent 71-year-old woman who was driving home from work. Had her murder occurred five years ago, it may never have been solved.

Barbara Harper was driving when she was shot and killed on the Downtown Loop about 3 a.m. Jan. 17. City surveillance cameras caught the whole thing, including the license plate number of the vehicle the shooter was in. Detectives used that and several other pieces of technology – from license plate readers to ballistics – to identity and arrest the suspect. We believe he had mistaken the victim’s vehicle for that belonging to another person with whom he had a dispute outside an adult business earlier in the evening.

Our message is to anyone thinking about engaging in violent crime or who knows anyone thinking of engaging in violent crime: it’s becoming more likely every day that you will get caught. There are parts of this city where we will detect your gunshot, see your license plate and capture your face on video. And those areas are expanding.

The technological advances our department has made in the last five years made solving the murder of Barbara Harper possible. She had no relationship to her killer, so traditional investigative measures likely would have produced little information. These advances have gotten us access to more public surveillance cameras and brought us more private surveillance camera partnerships. In addition to fixed-camera partnerships with entities like the Missouri Department of Transportation and the City of Kansas City, we have mobile surveillance cameras we can move around to different parts of town experiencing high crime.

These cameras work with our other public safety technology – like license plate readers and the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system – to help us identify guilty parties and prevent crime. The Police Foundation of Kansas City funded about half of these purchases, and I am very grateful for their donations. They, along with City officials who saw the importance of this equipment, are making our city safer.

Another example of partnerships and technology at work is the greatly decreased violent crime at what used to be troubled apartment complexes. We worked with a private video security company and about 20 apartment complexes that were experiencing violent crime issues on installing cameras around the public areas of the complex properties. Police can view video from the cameras and go back to review recorded video.

Our Real-Time Crime Center is staffed almost all day, every day with detectives and analysts to view and review video footage from all over the city. Officers on the streets also can view footage from many partner surveillance cameras on their cell phones.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, our partnerships with the public through WatchKC and the Neighbors by Ring app have continued to expand our ability to find the bad guys and bring them to justice. Now more than ever, if you choose to engage in violent crime, you stand a better chance of getting caught.

Barbara Harper’s senseless murder is just the most recent of many we have solved through video and technology. We’ve used this technology not only for homicides but other violent crimes such as shootings, rapes and robberies. With this technology, there is a lower probability you will get away with committing violent acts in this city. The deterrence effect will make Kansas City a safer place for everyone. 

Send comments to kcpdchiefblog@kcpd.org

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

We're following up on New Year's Eve gunfire

These shell casings were all from one address in East Patrol Division after New Year's Eve.
Officers sorted them by caliber and type.

The New Year’s Eve celebration of two weeks ago may be a distant memory for some, but police are still hard at work following up on reports of illegal celebratory gunfire. Despite our pleas and enforcement, despite an 11-year-old girl previously being killed by such behavior, and despite the damage it does to property, people continued to engage in celebratory gunfire as 2018 turned to 2019. You can see some of what it was like from Central Patrol Division by reading through our Twitter feed that night, when we did a tweet-along with officers from about 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. This year, as every other year, officers had to take cover around midnight for their protection. 

The ShotSpotter gunshot detection system covers 3.5 square miles of the city that have a high rate of gun violence and shots fired. Using that and recovered shell casings, officers found one address where 360 shots were fired on New Year’s Eve night, and they were from at least nine different guns, based on the calibers of the shell casings. In just East Patrol Division, officers recovered 180 additional shell casings from at least 13 other incidents.

Officers recovered several spent bullets from the parking spot of the East Patrol Division commander, Major Greg Volker, at the station. If he had been there getting out of his car at that time, he would have been hit. It is only dumb luck that prevented another horrible tragedy like what happened to Blair Shanahan Lane. As of noon on New Year’s Day, we’d taken two reports of property damage consistent with celebratory gunfire: one to a garage and the vehicle inside it, and another to a vehicle’s window. We know there’s probably much more out there that wasn’t reported.

From 6 p.m. Dec. 31 to 6 a.m. Jan. 1, we received 301 calls to 911 about the sound of gun shots. The ShotSpotter system recorded 109 alerts during the same period. ShotSpotter can distinguish between gunfire and fireworks (there were those, too).

So what are we doing about it? We are gathering evidence so that as many people who illegally discharged firearms on New Year’s Eve (which is prohibited by City ordinance) can be issued citations if possible. It’s likely that some of those discharging firearms cannot legally possess a gun (because they are convicted felons, for example), so we are working with our federal partners to build those cases, as well.

New Year’s Eve should be a time of celebration and joy, not hiding in your basement with your children, as one terrified mom tweeted to us she was doing. We are doing our best to hold those accountable who wantonly risked the lives and safety of their neighbors.

Send comments to kcpdchiefblog@kcpd.org 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Conclusion of the investigation into the Crimes Against Children Section


I'd like to discuss the conclusion of our internal investigation into the Crimes Against Children Unit. I think it’s very important to share what we’ve done to correct problems, protect our city’s most vulnerable victims and restore trust in the Kansas City Missouri Police Department.

Sincerely, I am disappointed. This investigation revealed issues with the organization as well as individual commanders, supervisors and detectives. I am disappointed because I know we are better than this. On behalf of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, I want to apologize to the children and families who did not receive the service they should expect from us. I also want to apologize to the people of Kansas City, who rightfully expect their police department to provide excellent service to vulnerable victims. You will see our improvement in the steps we’ve taken to correct these problems and provide exemplary service and justice.

Investigation Findings
I’ll share the findings of the internal investigation, the cases of which generally transpired from 2011 to 2016. It identified two areas where failure occurred: at the organizational level, and at the individual level.

Organizationally, failure reached to the highest levels of this Department. There were no processes in place within this organization to address the issues of detectives’ caseloads growing too large. For example, one detective was trying to investigate 80 cases a month. Another detective said he inherited 72 cases the day he started in the unit. Their pleas for more people and more resources went unheard by command staff.  The Department also failed to ensure commanders, supervisors and detectives took adequate quality and control measures in case management, meaning how to best balance caseloads and allocate time.

The investigation also identified personal failures among commanders, supervisors and detectives. Among these were failure to address caseload issues, failure to follow up on some cases in a timely manner and ultimately failure to submit cases prepared most effectively for prosecution.

Investigative Process
This investigation took considerable time. We did not want to sacrifice a thorough review for expediency. Our Internal Affairs Unit generated 28 binders of investigative documents in this case. Working with other department members, Internal Affairs ultimately identified 149 cases from the Crimes Against Children Section that did not receive the attention they needed. On each of those cases, our internal investigators had to determine who did what, when they did it, and what was not done.  The members of the Crimes Against Children Section were given opportunity to tell their sides of the story, as well.

Those 28 binders of investigative documents were turned over to a specially selected internal work-group composed of members with various ranks and experience to review and inspect the Internal Affairs case files. The work-group members were pulled off of their regular duties and assigned to devote 100 percent of their time to review the investigation and make both procedural and disciplinary recommendations directly to me. I have reviewed the recommendations of the work group and all the case files. We have now come to a conclusion, which is why we are here today.

Investigation Results
This investigation resulted in internal disciplinary measures being recommended against 17 members who were assigned to the Crimes Against Children Section or its chain of command.  These recommendations ranged from disciplinary counseling to termination.  Of the 17 members recommended for discipline, seven are no longer employed by the Department. According to state statute, I cannot share which members received discipline, and these internal investigative files are not public record.

What We’ve Changed
When the extent of case management issues within the Crimes Against Children Section came to light, the department took the unprecedented step of removing seven detectives and two sergeants from their investigative duties. Other veteran detectives were brought in on special assignment at the beginning of 2016 to take over the cases and prepare them for prosecution. A selection process took place to identify new detectives to be permanently assigned to the Crimes Against Children Section.

Most – if not all – of the families in the 149 cases we identified that had to be re-worked have been notified of the status of their cases. If you are one of these families and still have questions, please call the KCPD Juvenile Section at 816-234-5150. 

The Crimes Against Children Section’s name has changed back to what it was previously called, the Juvenile Section. It is now fully staffed, with the addition of two additional detectives, for a total of 10 detectives and 2 sergeants. This creates an entirely new staff and chain of command for the Juvenile Section.  Staffing for this section will remain a top priority.

In April 2016, our department implemented quality control measures. 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. We also are working with department members to improve case file submissions so they have the greatest possible opportunity for successful prosecution. This has improved our processes and quality across all investigative units, not just the Juvenile Section.

Since I became Chief, all Department commanders now have undergone additional leadership and ethics training to enhance accountability and prevent complacency at every level of the organization. This is beyond our normal training program.

We took the lessons learned from what happened in Crimes Against Children and applied them across all investigative units on the Department. Both a sergeant and captain must review caseloads every month with their detectives. Whenever a detective marks a case as inactive, a supervisor must review it to determine whether that inactivation was appropriate, and a commander must review the supervisor’s recommendations.

We have enhanced our relationship with child advocacy groups and have asked them to hold us accountable. Feel free to ask them how we’re doing. We have Memoranda of Understanding with the Child Protection Center in Jackson County, the Children’s Advocacy Center serving Clay and Platte counties and the Jackson County Children’s Division. In addition to those, Juvenile Section members meet regularly with Children’s Mercy Hospital case workers.

What’s Ahead
The KCPD is working right now to co-locate our Special Victims Unit with the Child Protection Center and the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) in one facility.  The proposal includes on-site representatives from the Missouri Department of Family Services, Children’s Mercy Hospital, Rose Brooks and other social service organizations. The idea for the co-location is to have a “one-stop shop” where victims of child physical and sexual abuse, along with victims of domestic violence and adult sexual abuse, can receive all their services in one place. We believe victims will receive more comprehensive and convenient services by only having to go to one location. This co-location model is currently being used in Dallas, Omaha and San Diego with great success.

We are working with our partners to identify a location and funding for this facility. This should materialize in the near future. This partnership will enhance our ability to serve the most vulnerable victims.

Conclusion
The conclusion of our internal investigation into the Crimes Against Children Section marks the end of a regrettable time period in which the Kansas City Missouri Police Department failed to serve child victims in the way they needed and deserved. It is my job and the job of everyone in this organization to ensure it never happens again anywhere in this Police Department.

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. We have implemented training and numerous layers of accountability to ensure all victims get the most professional and effective investigations we can provide. Our partnerships with child advocacy organizations have never been stronger, and we are eagerly anticipating the chance to truly work with them altogether in one building. We look forward to showing you with our actions that the people of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department are now, more than ever, dedicated to serve and protect the people of our city with professionalism, honor and integrity.

Thank you,
Chief Richard Smith