KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Police Department is reforming its missing persons unit.
Former Chief Rick Smith disbanded the missing persons unit last year, moving the detectives to homicide unit and assault squad.
But on Tuesday, new KCPD Chief Stacey Graves announced a plan to bring the unit back.
Graves said the move to reinstate the missing person unit needs to happen to keep Kansas City safe, but the unit will focus on mostly non-criminal investigations.
On Tuesday, some shared praise for Graves since the return of the missing persons unit comes at her request.
“I think the main message here is that the chief paid attention,” KCPD Maj. Leslie Foreman said.
“Violent crime we know is a hot topic, but missing persons is something that is, even though generally non-criminal, is very important to people, the community, to the family to feel like they’re being heard and receiving good service.”
The missing person unit will initially have eight members: seven detectives and one sergeant supervisor. The team will officially be reinstated Sunday.
The move follows a barrage of rumors, fears and mistrust of police in their handling of Black women assumed to be missing — correct or not — from the city’s urban core.
There have been plenty of questions about how authorities follow-up on missing person cases and how seriously those situations were being taken.
Prospect Avenue, it’s a place where many say someone can fall through the cracks and potentially be forgotten if they’re not careful.
Kansas City resident Jeffrey Ramsey said, on the streets, he’s seen a lot of people disappear and doesn’t always see the follow-up.
“There’s a lot of things going on in this world today but don’t nobody have an answer today,” he said.
Some of the Kansas City community’s concern — as well as stories and gossip — stem from the case of Timothy Haslett Jr. in Excelsior Springs. A woman told Excelsior Springs police she escaped captivity, torture and sexual assault after getting picked up on Prospect Avenue, according to court documents.
She alleges another woman was also victimized, but that person hasn’t come forward.
But KCPD did not draw a direct line from that situation to the missing person unit’s relaunch.
“You know, there was a lot of attention on missing persons, and we just needed some more specific focus on that,” Foreman said.
Fifth District Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw said her office received many calls urging for an investigation to be launched following the confusion out of Excelsior Springs.
“Especially as it pertained to the missing, the alleged missing women on Prospect, my office was in receipt of several requests and phone calls,” Parks-Shaw said.
Parks-Shaw said she wants police to adopt the mindset that missing really means missing, especially with respect to Black women.
“As an elected official but more so as a Black female, it is very concerning to me,” Parks-Shaw said.
Parks-Shaw previously testified to the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners on this issue and she said she gives credit to Graves for moving to re-establish the unit.
But back on the streets, some are still skeptical about how much impact it will make.
“I don’t trust the police at all. But at the same time, they’re here. But are they here to serve and protect or are they just here to do what they want to do?” Ramsey said.