In Missouri, the Kansas City Police Department’s (KCPD’s) cold case squad and crime laboratory, with the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, form a winning team. All three have been awarded National Institute of Justice DNA grants. Since January 2008 (the first of the three years that the KCPD Sex Crimes Cold Case Squad received NIJ Solving Cold Cases with DNA grant funding), the team has gotten more than 150 CODIS hits, exceptionally cleared more than 100 cases and issued more than 50 charges.
Capt. Mark Folsom, commander of the KCPD Special Victims Unit, says the Sex Crimes Cold Case Squad, which was restructured under the Violent Crimes Cold Case Squad in March, has an exemplary working relationship with the crime laboratory and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office. Going back to 2000, about 115 cold cases, including homicides and sexual assaults, have since been prosecuted to conviction and represent a 96-percent conviction rate, says Ted Hunt, chief trial attorney in the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office.
A case in point: Charging the Waldo rapist
In May 2010, teamwork and DNA evidence helped Jackson County charge Bernard Jackson with 15 felonies from four rapes in 1983 and 1984, in the Waldo and Armour Hills areas of Kansas City. At the time, KCPD was investigating Jackson as a person of interest in five similar sexual assault cases taking place in the Waldo area in 2009 and 2010. Preliminary reports from the 1980s were pulled, along with evidence from the property room and the laboratory’s long-term storage freezer. In the time span of a Friday afternoon to Monday morning, criminalists found a matching profile.
“That kind of communication and quick action, and the willingness of the lab to drop everything and work throughout the weekend to solve the case, enhanced our ability to charge the suspect quickly and get him off the street,” Hunt says.
The alleged serial rapist had been arrested and convicted after a 1984 burglary and rape, spent time in prison, was released in 2008, and allegedly again started a pattern of crime.
Folsom, who led the Waldo rapist investigation task force, says the crime laboratory team was a huge help, particularly those working in DNA and Trace Evidence who had to prioritize which of the thousands of items would be analyzed first. In October 2011, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office charged Jackson with 22 felonies for two of the five cases from 2009 to 2010.
Making the case for a police department crime laboratory
Folsom believes having the 72-member crime laboratory within the police department is advantageous. That goes against a recommendation of “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward,” a report sponsored by the NIJ and released by the National Research Council in 2009. The congressionally mandated report says that to ensure the efficacy of the work done by forensic scientists and other practitioners in the field, public forensic science laboratories should be made independent from or autonomous within police departments and prosecutor’s offices.
Linda Netzel, director of the KCPD crime laboratory since 2005, agrees with most of the report but argues having a police department crime lab can lead to successful outcomes. Netzel says, “One of the things that I think has been key to our success of being a high-quality lab has been our close attachment to crime scenes.”
The KCPD’s dedicated crime scene unit is part of the crime laboratory. Criminalists receive crime scene training and can be called out of the lab to provide technical advice. KCPD criminalists are certified by the American Board of Criminalistics. Some disciplines have their own certifying bodies. The Association of Firearms and Tool Mark Examiners certifies tool mark examiners, and the International Association for Identification certifies crime scene and fingerprint disciplines. All testifying members of the KCPD crime lab are required to obtain certification at certain times in their career, says Netzel. The crime lab itself is accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board.