Police Chief Forms New Homicide Squad to Look at Evidence, Unsolved Cases
"I think this is definitely warranted and a good use of manpower," said Stacey Daniels-Young, the board president. "Anything we can do to make the public feel more secure is important."
Daniels-Young said there was little support on the board or in the department for using resources solely to check whether evidence existed in old cases.
But she said Easley's idea that the squad would try to solve old cases convinced the board members to support the plan.
"Their focus is solving old cases," she said. "If they find missing evidence along the way, we'll deal with that as it comes."
Phil LeVota, an assistant Jackson County prosecutor who tries homicide cases, said his office believes police have proper procedures to protect evidence.
"But if there is missing evidence in any of our cases, action by the police to identify it as soon as possible is a good thing," he said.
Easley said investigators will check the most recent cases first and then work on older ones. He said cases with the best chance of being solved will be receive the most attention because it was unlikely police could thoroughly investigate all 858 cases.
Between 1976 and 2001 Kansas City, police cleared 77 percent of their homicide cases, compared to a national average rate last year of 62.4 percent, according to FBI statistics.
The earlier audit looked into 57 homicides in which suspects had been charged and were awaiting trial.
Easley ordered the audit in May after Jackson County prosecutors dismissed charges in one case and lost another case, in part because of missing evidence.
Evidence was mistakenly destroyed in those two cases and another one when a homicide sergeant failed to follow proper procedures. That sergeant has been transferred and is the focus of an internal investigation.
In four other cases, police do not know how evidence disappeared. The eighth case was initially called a suicide, but homicide charges were later filed. To prevent similar problems, police now keep evidence in suicides longer.
The audit included six recommendations to improve handling of property and evidence. Capt. Christine Laughlin, who supervised the audit, said all of the recommendations had been implemented or addressed.
She said the changes would "significantly diminish" the chance that property or evidence would be mishandled in the future.
"I'm not going to say it's never going to happen again," she said. "We're dealing with humans."
Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.