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Young Independence officer’s death a wake-up call for feuding police and prosecutor

·3 min read

A young Independence policeman barely above the legal age to drink and with less than three weeks on the force will be laid to rest this week. And the entire criminal justice system in Jackson County needs to rethink how to work together to avoid a similar tragedy in the future.

Officer Blaize Madrid-Evans died after being shot last week by a felon wanted on a parole violation. He graduated from the police academy in July and was still in training when his life was tragically cut short in the line of duty.

Madrid-Evans was an organ donor. His kidney is credited with saving the life of a fellow officer who was injured when he was struck by a vehicle while on duty. Springfield police officer Mark Priebe underwent a successful kidney transplant Saturday thanks to Madrid-Evans’ selflessness. He deserved better than to die at such a young age.

Sure, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker’s office should have known a potentially dangerous criminal named Cody Harrison could act out violently. An arrest warrant was issued for him days before he allegedly gunned down the young officer. Harrison died in an exchange of gunfire with Madrid-Evans’ field training officer, law enforcement officials said.

Yes, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Twila Rigby may have erred allowing Harrison, a felon with a violent past, released from jail on a signature bond with pending burglary charges. But most burglars are set free while awaiting trial. In Jackson County, concerns with COVID-19 and jail overcrowding are real. Rigby did what most judges would have and let Harrison go as he awaited his day in court.

Harrison was on parole for a gun-related case years ago in Clay County. As a felon, he was not allowed to own a gun legally. The Missouri Board of Probation and Parole has to keep better tabs on criminals who violate conditions of their supervised release. Probation officers have a role to play in preventing further officers from dying in the line of duty, as do police agencies in Kansas City, Independence and Jackson County.

Baker, Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith and other law enforcement officials will be measured by their response and results going forward. Both Kansas City police and prosecutors in Jackson County seemed to get that after Madrid-Evans’ death, claiming jointly that jail capacity, recent legislative changes to gun laws and other societal issues make addressing gun violence increasingly difficult.

“When faced with a tragedy like this we are called upon to improve ways to intervene and prevent senseless gun violence in our community,” read a joint statement from the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office and the Kansas City Police Department. Both agencies “are equally committed to reducing violent crime,” and “understand a felon in possession of a firearm can be a precursor to violence. Today both agencies jointly agreed to examine opportunities to work together to ensure all dangerous offenders are appropriately addressed.

“Our agencies will seek greater communication among all criminal justice partners to share information regarding those who pose potential threats of violence and use all our collective leverage to address those situations.”

Law enforcement officials working in silos is no longer acceptable. The lack of a collaborative approach to fighting crime regionwide helps no one. A simmering beef between Smith and Baker is unproductive and needs to cease. Immediately. We can hope their joint release about this tragedy is a sign of an olive branch, because infighting among two of the top legal figures in Jackson County puts the entire community at risk.

The not-for-profit Independence Police Department Foundation is trying to raise $10,000 to cover the cost of the fallen officer’s funeral and other expenses. Donations were being accepted until Sept. 24. Visit www.ipdfoundation.org for more information.

A visitation for Blaize Madrid-Evans will be held Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence. Madrid-Evans’ funeral is the next day at 11 a.m. at the same location.

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