KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department has re-formed the Missing Persons Unit, which former Chief of Police Rick Smith had disbanded.
During the previous administration’s reorganization, detectives with the Missing Persons Unit were re-distributed to the Sex Crimes and Juvenile units with responsibilities to co-investigate missing persons.
That often led to overworked detectives who were less communicative with concerned family members than the public would like.
“It’s extremely important to those family members, to those reporting parties, to have their voices heard and to make sure there’s someone who’s following up and can answer questions, that kind of thing,” Major Leslie Foreman with the KCPD Violent Crimes Unit said.
Responding to such criticism from the public, new Chief of Police Stacey Graves has reinstated the Missing Persons Unit, which will include a sergeant and seven detectives when it officially relaunches on Sunday.
“Chief Graves, that was one of the things that was important to her,” Foreman said. “Violent crimes obviously is a big push but along with that (is) missing persons. She recognized that there is a lot of attention on missing persons, and we needed more specific focus on that.”
The KCPD policy for reporting missing adults and juveniles, which was updated in December 2021, has not changed, but the time and attention the department will dedicate to such investigations will change.
“Now, we’re going to have a squad that can focus just on (missing persons),” Foreman said. “I really believe that that will make a difference in our ability to follow through with things and have better communication.”
The squad also will investigate non-suspicious deaths — dead bodies with no signs of foul play, suicides and overdoses, or other non-criminal deaths.
Most missing persons cases aren’t criminal in nature, often involving runaway juveniles or people who left their family for a variety of reasons, but Foreman said Graves recognizes the emotional nature of such cases and the need for better responsiveness from KCPD.
“Our goal in doing this is to give it more focus, more attention and continue to work the cases the best we can,” Foreman said.
Foreman also asked for patience from the public as KCPD rebuilds the Missing Persons Unit, offering this message to residents: “Please bear with us and don’t hesitate to reach out to us. ... We are going to do better, but please be patient with us.”
Foreman said three of the re-formed units' detectives are coming from the Homicide Unit, including some with previous experience with the Missing Persons Unit.
“These are tenured detectives, experienced detectives,” Foreman said.
In the rare event that a missing-person investigation dovetails with a human-trafficking investigation, the investigation of which will remain part of a separate unit, missing-persons detectives will work hand in hand as needed.
All missing persons under investigation will continue to be entered into state and federal missing-person databases.
KCPD also put in place a tracking system for missing persons in late 2022 similar to the Daily Homicide Analysis, and the report is forwarded monthly to the Board of Police Commissioners.
Foreman estimates that the department has investigated more than 300 missing-persons cases already in 2023, including more than 60 that remain outstanding.
“The vast majority of missing persons and juveniles are found and returned home,” Foreman said.