KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An internal years-long investigation into the Kansas City Police Department's Crimes Against Children unit resulted in disciplinary actions against 17 officers, including seven who are no longer with the department, Police Chief Rick Smith announced Tuesday.
The internal investigation identified 149 cases from the Crimes Against Children unit that "did not receive the attention they needed," Smith said in an address to the Board of Police Commissioners. The cases spanned from 2011 to 2016.
Crimes Against Children investigates cases in which children ages 16 or younger are victims of physical or sexual abuse, as well as neglect, endangerment, parental kidnappings and custody violations.
"I want to apologize to the children and families who did not receive the service they should expect from us," Smith said.
Smith said that the investigation, which began in 2015, found failures at both the "highest levels" of the department and among individual officers.
"This investigation revealed issues with the organization as well as individual commanders, supervisors and detectives," Smith said. "I am disappointed because I know we are better than this."
On the organizational level, Smith said there were "no processes in place" to address detectives' large caseloads. In one example, a detective was investigating 80 cases a month, Smith said.
Smith said that veteran detectives from other units were put on special assignment in 2016 to take over cases within the Crimes Against Children unit. Later, new detectives were permanently assigned to the unit, which now has 10 detectives, two more than it previously had, and two sergeants, Smith said.
"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," Smith said. "It is my job and the job of everyone in this organization to ensure it never happens again anywhere in this police department."
Smith said the department will not release the names of the officers who were disciplined, citing state law.
"None of these people are bad people that are involved in this. It was bad situation, and like I said, there was individual responsibility that went along with it," Smith told reporters after he made his prepared remarks.
Moving forward, the unit will now be recognized by its former name, the Juvenile Section. The department also plans to allocate more resources to the unit, Smith said.
A captain and sergeant must now review their detectives' caseloads every month, and additional oversight is in place whenever a case is marked inactive.
Smith said he also wants child advocacy groups to hold police accountable.
"There's better collaboration with law enforcement personnel showing up at forensic interviews, participating in exchange of information," James Anderst, director of the Child Abuse and Neglect Division at Children's Mercy Hospital, told 41 Action News.
Children's Mercy handles 2,000 cases of alleged child abuse annually in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area.
"What happens to children is just as important, if not more important, than what happens to adults," Anderst said.
Smith said he also has sent his commanders to receive addition leadership and ethics training to improve accountability.
"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," Smith said.