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10-9-13

KCI business leaders
want more from sheriff

by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark reporter

Following a recent rash of thefts near the Kansas City International Airport, some business leaders say they have reached a boiling point.

At least one KCI-area hotel manager has expressed his frustration over the situation directly to the Platte County Sheriff.

The latest incident involving thieves, who appear to be targeting hotels and other businesses near the Tiffany Springs exit, happens to be a contracting company assisting in the major project of converting the Interstate 29 interchange at Tiffany Springs Parkway into a diverging diamond interchange.

Jesse Hinton, a contractor with Emery Sapp and Sons, said a job trailer that holds the employees' equipment was broken into on Saturday, Sept. 28.

According to Hinton, thieves took off with more than $17,000 worth of equipment and material. A GPS data collector, two battery-operated rebar tying guns, plate compacter, cases of saw blades, and hydraulic oil were among the items stolen.

Witnesses from a hotel adjacent to the crime scene say they saw the suspects in the act and called authorities. Unfortunately, they had no way of detaining the suspects and when law enforcement arrived at the scene, suspects had already fled in a vehicle.

“As a company, when we have items stolen from a job it really hurts the employees the most, because it is an employee-owned company,” said Hinton. “They are responsible for their tools on the job and for this instance we had so many dollars’ worth stolen that a couple of the guys were sent home. So this hurts the employees more than it hurts the company.”

Other businesses have also recently filed reports of parking lot crimes and theft near the Tiffany Springs exit.

Tom Scott, general manager of the Candlewood Suites at KCI, described the situation “plaguing the area” as serious.

“My hotel hasn't been hit hard, but many hotels have been hit hard,” said Scott. “I have been fortunate to not be hit as hard as say the Embassy Suites or Courtyard Marriott, but the general area has been hit hard.”

Scott believes these crimes are directly impacting the hotel business near the Kansas City International Airport and urges the Platte County Sheriff's Department to play a more active role in deterring these crimes.

“Dealing with an irate guest who has been victimized can be difficult. It is especially difficult when you have been seeking a company's business for a period of time only to discover an associate with that company had his or her vehicle broken into,” said Scott. “They are immediately going to cast a negative thought about the hotel and probably switch hotels. It really puts a bad taste in their mouth.”

Over the past couple of years, numerous meetings between hotel managers and members of law enforcement have been held at the Platte County Resource Center to address these issues. During these meetings, information is shared between hotel managers and the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, as well as the Platte County Sheriff's Department.

Scott says even at these meeting the Platte County Sheriff's Department appears to be withdrawn.

“They don't really give it much thought at all,” said Scott. “I don't want to be negative, but I don't know how else to express myself. They sit there in their uniforms and defer everything that KCPD does. They don't seem to be making any proactive attempt to do anything.”

Desperately seeking additional patrol officers in the area, Scott said he made numerous attempts to contact the Platte County Sheriff's Department.

“I sent a couple of emails to Mark Owen (Platte County Sheriff) hoping to get some sort of response from him, because it seems like KCPD is the only agency that tries to do anything to help us.”

In an email dated Wednesday, Sept 4, Sheriff Owen replied to Scott stating:

“I fully understand your concerns for the described area and the number of property crimes (from vehicles) that are occurring in the same. We are experiencing these rashes of property crimes throughout the entire county as is Kansas City in the Northland as a whole. Your area is not being singled out, as we have had the same situation and types of crimes occurring in numerous residential areas throughout the county. It is my understanding that the smaller communities throughout the county are experiencing a higher number of property and vehicle crimes as well.”

He added that the occurrence of the crimes happens over the late night hours, when a limited number of deputies are on patrol.

“We are patrolling approximately 453 square miles and usually have four patrol deputies on duty during these shifts that are assigned to actual patrol duties. A call for service normally requires two deputies be dispatched so this reduces the actual patrol time to what is left between calls,” wrote Owen.

Scott said he is dissatisfied with Owen's response.

“I understand he has a big county to take care of but let's face it, a lot of Platte County is rural,” said Scott. “The commerce and theft is happening down in southern Platte County. You always see the sheriff's department on a Friday or Saturday night patrolling near Zona Rosa and 64th Street. They are always there looking for impaired drivers. It seems like that is their number one concern.”

Scott said the Platte County Sheriff's Department should increase its focus to preventing theft crimes in hotel parking lots given the substantial amount of tax revenue the hotels' generate.

“Every single month hotels pay .25% of our receipt on a monthly basis to Platte County and when we can't get the sheriff's department's response to give us any sort of patrol, well I can't believe it. We would like to get a little bit of service,” said Scott.

Owen addressed Scott's complaint by alleging a high police presence in other areas around the county.

“You made reference in your email about our cars being around Zona Rosa and or 64th Street during some of the shift times. You are correct in your observations. Occasionally one of those cars is an on duty shift patrol officer, however, many times the cars you are observing are officers on special assignments,” the sheriff wrote.

“These special assignments are overtime funded highway safety grant hours where the officers are being paid overtime to work Wolf packs, checkpoints, hazardous moving violations or DWI traffic enforcement. These grants are very specific to the conditions, required results and type of services that these officers are allowed to work during the grant hours. They are allowed to respond to emergency calls to help stabilize the situation and then immediately return to the assigned grant duties.

“I only bring this up to help explain why or what some of the cars you are observing are doing and the required duties they have during that time frame. All officers regardless of assignment are watching for suspicious autos and stolen property as they conduct the assignment,” wrote Owen.

When asked to increase patrols along Prairie View Road and Ambassador Drive, Owen wrote:

“In an effort to help your situation and to work with KCPD, I have asked our patrol officers to put your area on the patrol list request sheet (with the others they received) in their vehicles in an attempt to make a more frequent attempt to drive through your properties and others on the list between calls for service.”

Scott said despite his disappointment with the response he has received from the sheriff's department, he is pleased with the service provided by the Kanas City Missouri Police Department. Officer Paul Burkhalter, a community interaction officer with the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, stopped by each Northland hotel and handed out his contact information. Scott said this really demonstrates “they are trying to help us.”

But until these smash and grabs cease, Scott said on his own initiative he has installed digital cameras throughout both the inside and outside of his hotel. Additional lighting has been mounted in the parking lot and front desk associates have been trained extensively on evaluating guests.