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The John's Belts Series: Victims, not recognized.

Updated: Mar 26

The mission of the Victim Services unit within the Kansas City Kansas Police Department is to empower crime victims by providing the tools needed to overcome the trauma of victimization. We work to inform victims of their rights and advocate for those rights to be upheld. Crime victims are referrals to and aid locating appropriate medical, psychological, and social services. Victim services also provided case information regarding the status of the police investigation and victim compensation as well as court advocacy through the legal process. So, when I reached out to the District Attorney’s office for updates post- police investigation of John Anderton’s death, it seemed second nature for the District Attorney to redirect me to Victim Services at which time I informed him, under our current criminal justice policy, when the police are your accused aggressor, the deceased and their family are not seen as victims. Those services are not available to them. We are their only advocate.

On the night of John’s death his family was not notified. John’s only surviving adult relatives are his siblings and all of them lived out of town. Eric, John’s brother found out when got a message on Facebook from John’s girlfriend letting him know that his brother had been shot and killed by the police. When he reached out to our city’s police department, he was given the runaround for hours before they called him back and said, “we have been trying to track you down.” It was 4 weeks of not getting answers about what exactly happened to his brother before Eric connected with Justice for Wyandotte for help. Imagine that; the family was grieving, they were receiving no information, no updates, and ultimately no support. They had to struggle to locate John’s body. And they have yet to receive all of John’s belongings from that evening.

How do we fix this?

Over the summer, we met with a few elected officials regarding the lack of victim services for people who have been harmed or killed at the hands of police. This would allow victims of police brutality and the families of the deceased to receive the same level of referrals, case information, court advocacy, and even victim compensation. This is not a discussion that is just happening in Wyandotte County/KCK. The state of California has discussed legislation to address this same issue. Senate Bill 299 was proposed to extend victim services to survivors of police use of force and extend access to state level aid. “SB 299 is critically important, as it ensures that more survivors receive the support needed to address their trauma, regardless of who caused that harm,” said Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), the bill’s author. This proposed bill was revised under Senate Bill 838 almost a week after John’s death last year. It still struggles to get traction in Congress.

However, increasing funding to law enforcement agencies who may have a conflict of interest in the result of a police brutality investigation may not be the best way to solve this problem. Another solution could be to direct funding to nonprofit organizations that can also provide these same services. Until laws like this are passed, organizations like Justice for Wyandotte are the only option for services for people who feel they have experienced mistreatment by the hands of law enforcement. Supporting local organizations who offer these victim services helps fix this gap in our criminal justice system. Our goals is to provide mental health, legal resources, case updates, and general advocacy for each of our qualifying clients. This takes dedicated time and effort, especially when you consider we are not always working with willing parties in law enforcement.

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