KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Violence this summer has strained KCPD resources. Officers are on the front lines, but right behind them are the crime scene technicians who have gathered around 10,000 pieces of evidence in the past month. This has led to 12-to-15 hour shifts, and some are still getting called in on their days off.
For 18 days during what typically are the hottest weeks of the summer, Kansas City saw 36 separate shootings, including 15 homicides.
“We don`t have enough people to handle multiple crime scenes at one time, which is what we`ve been experiencing in the last couple of months,” Crime Lab Director Linda Netzel said.
Netzel says it`s been 25 years since she`s seen so many shootings in such a short span of time.
“If you go back to 1993, was one of our more violent years. When I first started at the lab I was just in awe of what I was seeing. I was right out of college. We had about 150 homicides that year,” she said.
But crime lab examinations have changed a lot in those 25 years. Tests that used to take weeks or months, now can be completed within 24 hours for homicides and shootings in a state-of-the-art laboratory.
“When these crimes occur, there`s a lot of pressure to get forensics done, get other things done so we can get people charged. Try to get them off the street after they have committed a violent act,” KCPD Chief Rick Smith said.
But when there`s no one available to start gathering the evidence, police often have to keep crime scenes blocked off for hours until technicians catch up.
“What a lot of people don`t understand about the challenge of processing a crime scene. They see our folks on TV. They are taking measurements, photographs, recovering evidence. But after they get done with that, there`s going to be 10-to-12 hours of other administrative work that has to be done in order for evidence to move into other sections of the lab,” Netzel said.
She says techs can`t speed up evidence gathering by cutting corners during surges in shootings. They must take photos and notes as they collect evidence or risk having their work thrown out of court.
“The temptation would be, ‘well today we`ve got three murders going on and an officer-involved shooting, something like that, we are going to make compromises.’ We don`t,” she said.
That diligence is paying dividends. Police say of the 15 homicides in 18 days, charges have been filed or suspects identified for questioning in all but three cases.
“If you think about what they do. They see death and destruction every day, all day. It`s not like they are going to property crimes or burglaries. There`s very little of that crime scene staff is available to do,” Netzel said.
To help make sure the crime lab can provide firearm test results quickly, police recently received a $1-million federal grant to hire three more firearm examiners.
“We will be quicker about some of our forensics and our reports back to investigators, and follow up for leads, some of the other things on tying crimes together,” Chief Smith said.
The Gun Intelligence Center grant will help detectives learn faster if the same gun is connected to multiple shooting scenes.
“We`ve had that capability, but what this grant will allow us to do is make all that happen within 24 to 48 hours versus two or three months,” Netzel said.
By increasing the lab`s focus on guns and ammunition, other staffers are free to work other cases.
“I think this will be an important piece for the police department moving forward. We hope to see a reduction in gun violence. Our partner in this is the ATF. It has been very successful in other cities. We are looking forward to addressing gun violence in our city through this grant,” Chief Smith said.
It`s no substitution for stopping the shootings to begin with, but police believe swifter justice safeguards the public and serves as a deterrent.
With the additional staff starting on September 4, Netzel says detectives should expect to get firearm test results in 24 hours