Kansas City PD chief cuts cold case unit due to staffing; mayor vows to reinstate

"We don't have enough detectives," Chief Rick Smith said, though he assured the public that all incoming leads would still be pursued


By Anna Spoerre and Aarón Torres
The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas on Tuesday said he was "very concerned" by comments made the day prior by police chief Rick Smith, who said he had disbanded the department's missing person's/cold case squad.

Smith, speaking at a South Kansas City Alliance meeting Monday night, said, "We used to have a missing person cold case squad... and just two weeks ago I disbanded that and put them back into regular homicide and regular assault squad because we don't have enough detectives," according to a video clip posted by FOX4.

According to FOX4, Smith said the change would impact investigations.

"Now it will be if someone calls in with more information on a case we will certainly look at that, but we won't have people to actively work those cases," the local TV station reported Smith saying.

Lucas in a succession of tweets on Tuesday said he would seek to reverse the decision, calling it a "disservice to victims' families, to a council that voted to fund KCPD better than any city department and to our community."

The mayor, who sits on the Board of Police Commissioners, said the board wasn't kept in the loop on the decision. Smith, who was forced out of the role of top cop by police board members months earlier, recently announced that he will retire on April 22.

Last month, the Kansas City City Council passed a new $1.94 billion budget following a debate over a $33 million piece of the police department's $269 million allocation for the new fiscal year beginning May 1. The $33 million exceeds the state-mandated minimum funding for KCPD and was an increase over last year's budget.

"With a $12m budget increase for next year, I cannot fathom why command staff at the eleventh hour would eliminate this vital area of crime fighting and send a signal to hundreds of Kansas Citians that we are giving up on justice for their loved ones," Lucas tweeted on Tuesday.

"This decision also gives foundation to all those weeks ago who challenged our budget increase based on the fact that the department could take our funding and do whatever they want. I hope the Board hides its usual rubber stamp and regains some modicum of institutional control," Lucas continued.

After extensive debate over who would control the $33 million, the council voted to give the police department full discretion over how the money is used. KCPD has said they will put $4 million toward hiring 88 sworn police officers to make up in part for a staffing shortage.

Sgt. Jake Becchina, a spokesman for KCPD, said in a statement to The Star on Tuesday that the duties of the missing persons/cold case unit "remain in existence, and the positions remain available as staffing is increased."

Becchina said currently, when new information comes in regarding a cold case, a detective from the missing persons/cold case squad is assigned to follow up on that lead. In the future, a detective with the violence crimes division will instead be assigned to follow up on that lead.

"No case will go un-worked when information supports follow up or new investigation," Becchina wrote.

The department did not directly respond when asked if Smith's use of the word "disbanded" was accurate, though they said no detectives had been moved from the missing persons/cold case squad as of Tuesday.

When asked for information on the current number of detectives assigned to the missing persons/cold case squad, Officer Donna Drake, also a spokesperson with KCPD, declined to give an answer, instead writing: "All the information that is available at this time has been released."

RELATED: How the Vidocq Society helps solve cold case homicides 

(c)2022 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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