Community Outreach Team

It all began when Pastor Kevin Jones had an idea, and discussed it with Lt. Bullard and both had a meeting with Police Chief Mooney who saw the possibilities. It went from idea to planning to create a Community Outreach Team. I would approximate 45-50 residents young and old, black and white, men and woman attended.
It was a successful joint effort between Pastor Kevin Jones and the WPB Police Department.

Step one:
Residents were invited to the Police Department and heard an excellent presentation by Dennis Hardiman, Sergeant Criminal Investigations. Here is what we learned.

The WPB Police Department Homicide Unit was formed in June of 2006, and is comprised of six full time investigators and a unit supervisor (Sergeant). Each investigation is approached as a team. When a homicide occurs, all members of the team respond to the scene.

Reporting of the crime to 911.
Officers arrive, locate and treat a victim, secure the scene and witnesses.
Investigators are called to the scene.
A briefing is conducted along with a preliminary scene walk through.
Determine if a search warrant is necessary.
Evidence marking, sketching, and collection.
Canvass for witnesses and video surveillance.
Eye-witness statements on scene or a different location.
Conduct a final scene walk through to ensure everything is completed.
Identifying the victim.

If deceased:
Next of kin notification.
Attend the autopsy for cause and manner of death.
Once the scene is completed evidence processing begins: photographing each piece of evidence in detail, swabbing for DNA, locating fingerprints and completing ballistics analysis.

The Homicide Unit and CSI (Crime Scene Investigators) respond as teams to the scene.
Depending on the scene additional detectives, CSI or supervisors will respond.
Once the Homicide Unit and CSI’s arrive a briefing is held to gather pertinent facts from responding officers, to identify victims and witnesses, and resources needed.
Upon completion of the briefing, detectives are given assignments such as lead investigator, co-lead, crime scene, interviews and canvass/videos.
Investigators may have to prepare search warrants to enter a property, residence, vehicle or structure.
CSI may take several hours to locate and mark potential evidence.
Investigators could remain on scene while witnesses or suspects are interviewed to corroborate their testimony.
Once the evidence is located and marked the medical Examiner is contacted, and asked to respond for their investigation. Depending on their location, this could take hours.

Medical Examiner– a medically qualified public officer who’s duty is to investigate deaths occurring under unusual or suspicious circumstances, to perform postmortems, and initiate inquests.
F.S.S. 406.02-Duty to report; prohibited acts-without an order from the office of the district medical examiner, willfully touches, removes, or disturbs the body, clothing, or any article upon or near the body, with the intent to alter the evidence or circumstances surrounding the death, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.
Once the scene is cleared evidence processing begins.

Today, one of the most crucial items of evidence is DNA which is collected at the crime scene from the victim and may also contain the suspect’s DNA.
DNA recently led police to arrest Joseph DeAngelo in connection with crimes attributed to the East Area Rapist, over 30 years since he allegedly committed 12 murders and 45 rapes from 1976 to 1986.

Photographing and documenting injuries are imperative to corroborate statements.

The police dept. provided those in attendance with homicide stats from 2006-2018. I will include the stats from 2017 which was the deadliest year to date with 27 homicides, 9 cleared and 18 still open cases. Of the 27 homicides 23 were committed with handguns,2 with rifles, 1 blunt instrument and 1 other.

“Why does it take so long at a scene?”
Investigators only have one chance to gather evidence. They use a systematic approach and all scenes are processed the same way. Once the scene is clear it can be contaminated by citizens or family members returning to the scene, therefore any newly found evidence may be excluded at trial.
Obtaining a search warrant may take hours.

The victim will not be moved, manipulated or examined without the consent of the Medical Examiner. There is only one investigator on call for Palm Beach County. If the investigator is on another scene investigators have to wait until they arrive.

“Why are some cases treated differently?”
No case is treated differently, they are all treated equal. Some homicides have large complex, even multiple scenes containing more evidence which takes longer to process.

“Why do I never get all the facts from the investigator?”
In most cases family members of the victim are provided limited information. Investigators keep certain information private,this information would only be known to the suspect or a witness in the case.
Investigators use this private information to corroborate a suspect or witness account of the incident.

“Everyone knows the suspect, Why isn’t he in jail?”
Investigators usually have a possible suspects name in the beginning stages of the investigation.
Unfortunately witnesses are reluctant to cooperate with the police for fear of retaliation or being ostracized in the community. This is known as the neighborhood code of silence.
Without witness testimony police heavily rely on forensic evidence. Just because forensic evidence places a person does not mean they committed the crime. Unless a confession is obtained the suspect could reasonably explain why his DNA or latent fingerprints are at the scene. With the backlog of cases in Palm beach County the processing of forensic evidence could be a year away.

What you have read so far is the presentation given by Sergeant Hardiman to local residents who wanted to learn the procedure the police used on homicides, and what residents could do to assist them when they happen.
Then he opened the floor to questions and discussions.

After the police spend hours on the scene collecting evidence, taking photographs, interviewing possible witnesses the Medical Examiner arrives and repeats the process. One resident wanted to know why the M.E. couldn’t use the evidence the police collected. The answer was they collect their own. More hours needed.
If the police see a wallet in the victims pocket they are not allowed to remove it for the victims name without calling the M.E. for permission and that puts a hold on notifying next of kin.

When homicide is committed in the North end of the city, words get out quickly and family members start arriving before the investigators are finished their job. Family members, the parents, and especially the mother’s are hysterical to see their child laying in the street bleeding. Their instinct is to run and hold the child in their arms, tell them they are loved,and plead with them not to die.

The police can’t allow relatives near the deceased for fear of contaminating the crime scene, possibly removing suspects DNA, while leaving their own. I would find it impossible to console a grieving relative, answer their questions, worry about contaminating the crime scene while searching for additional evidence.

In my opinion the police are focused and concentrating on the evidence and fear of possibly overlooking something. Remember they have one chance to get it right and get a killer off the street before he strikes again.

Sergeant Hardiman recalled looking at video’s of a crime scene and seeing 5-6 eyewitnesses standing and watching and when the police questioned them no one saw or heard anything. I could never understand why a resident wouldn’t come forward and point out a killer to police. The Sergeant explained the police recognize the fear residents have and if they talk to police they or their family could be the next target.
He did a much better job of explaining it than I could. Fear is fear and you can’t get around it, but something has to change.
As I write this story the news just reported another murder in W.P.B. off 37th St. and Broadway.

The Community Outreach program began when Kevin Jones had an idea and I’m excited to see how far we can take it. Do you have an idea you believe may help stop the violence? The idea is no good in your head, share it with the police or send an anonymous letter.

Below is an excerpt from e-mail from Chief Mooney to residents who attended the meeting.

“We will get to work on planning the next step in this endeavor to create a Community Outreach Team and set of protocols to define our purpose and expectations. I really do appreciate the community support you have all shown towards enhancing the working relationship between the residents of WPB and your Police Department. I will be in touch soon. Thanks again for attending last night.”