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Morning Sun
  • KBI office in Pittsburg stays busy

  • Many Southeast Kansans get a puzzled look on their face when told of the Kansas Bureau of Investigations forensics laboratory and field office in Pittsburg. When told the KBI office/lab is in downtown, the quizzical looks get even more intense.



    In fact, the KBI, located at 821 N. Broadway, occasionally gets visitors looking for the Social Security office, which is at 821 S. Broadway.

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  • Many Southeast Kansans get a puzzled look on their face when told of the Kansas Bureau of Investigations forensics laboratory and field office in Pittsburg. When told the KBI office/lab is in downtown, the quizzical looks get even more intense.
    In fact, the KBI, located at 821 N. Broadway, occasionally gets visitors looking for the Social Security office, which is at 821 S. Broadway.
    “We’re not hiding, but at the same time, we’re not advertising,” said Steve Rosebrough, KBI senior special agent. “Most people know we’re here. We’re not trying to hide. We have a flag out front, a sign on the door, and we’re not hard to find if you are looking.”
    The office in Pittsburg houses a few different functions for the KBI.
    First, there’s the Field Investigations unit, which includes two agents and a third for the new Child Victims Unit. There’s also the forensics laboratory, which does both chemistry and latent prints. Finally, in the back of the building is the Southeast Kansas Drug Task Force, which keeps a low profile “for obvious reasons.”
    The Pittsburg office sees a lot of drug cases, which is the reason for the forensics lab in this portion of the state. A closer lab — other labs are in Great Bend, Topeka and Kansas City — meant results were returned faster and costs could be contained.
    “We have the highest number of meth labs in the state. There are more meth labs here than the rest of the state. We analyze other drugs, and there are just as many other drugs. Synthetic cannabinoids are rising. There are a lot more prescription drugs, too. A lot more than when I started six years ago,” said Mary Henderson, forensics scientist.
    But the Pittsburg office responds to more than just meth labs and drug cases. The KBI responds to homicides, white collar crime, child victim cases and investigations into those in police departments.
    “We’re an assisting agency. We don’t go in and take over a case like you see on TV,” Rosebrough said. “We show up and say, ‘What have you got and how can we help?’ Then we take it from there. We always work together [with local law enforcement]. We never come in and just take over. We come in and assist how we can. There’s nothing too humbling for us to do.”
    The Pittsburg office, which has been open since 2000, started one of the first drug-endangered children programs in the state in 2001, a program that became active in 2002.
    “Anytime we came across children in a meth lab, or any place that has been distributing drugs, and there are children present, they are drug-endangered,” said Tim Botts, senior special agent. “We run one investigation on the illegal drug side, and then we run a separate investigation on child endangerment.”
    Page 2 of 3 - The program, one of Rosebrough’s priorities when he started, removes those children from the home and takes them to a safe place to live and sleep.
    On the flip side of the coin in the Pittsburg office are the forensic scientists, who use plenty of high-tech equipment to isolate and analyze specimens in the accredited Pittsburg lab. The lab is actually pursuing another level of accreditation through the ISO process later this year.
    The lab features a $20,000 microscope that can take photos and video of specimens through the lens.
    There are devices that help determine the purity of a substance. There’s a flame photometer to determine the presence of certain elements in the sample. There’s a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer for elemental analysis.
    “It’s not like you see on TV,” Henderson said. “You get a case, you go up and check the evidence out of the vault, you document what you see, you inventory what it looks like. You take a sample and analyze it as needed. We have high quality instrumentation, and it typically takes two to three days to complete a case.”
    The other half of the forensics lab is the latent prints portion, which includes various hoods, powders and more to try to make the prints pop. The latent prints lab also has an AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Indentification System) station. But, like the chemistry side, don’t expect a “CSI” type of response.
    “First, it takes days and days, not instantaneous,” Henderson said. “It gives the 10 best matches, and even if they’re all crap, it will still tell you what the 10 best are. You can then compare to see if it is a match, and send off for the original to analyze it to the unknown. It’s not an overnight process.”
    But both lab and field agents have another duty to perform. Both spend plenty of time in court.
    Henderson estimated the forensic scientists spend 20 percent of their time in court.
    “Once you’re done with the investigation, your role switches to helping with the prosecution,” Rosebrough said. “A lot of cases, you’ll sit in with the prosecution to help with the case as advisors. You may catch someone lying on the stand, and you can bring that to the attention of the prosecutor.”
    Occasionally the field agents and forensic scientists work together on-scene as part of a Crime Scene Response Team. That’s just one of the KBI’s efforts in collaboration.
    They also work closely with the Tri-State Major Case Squad, made up of investigators from Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas.
    “We can flood the area with 60-70 investigators if the squad is activated and put completely on a case,” Rosebrough said.
    That’s important, because many criminals have a tendency to use the state borders as safe havens from other states.
    Page 3 of 3 - The KBI agents can be assigned to other cases, though. At the KBI director’s orders, a field agent could be assigned from Pittsburg to Colby if necessary. Luckily, that sort of maneuver is rare and agents stay to their geographic area. The Pittsburg office covers a six-county radius in their primary focus: Bourbon, Crawford, Cherokee, Labette, Neosho and Allen counties.
    And although the Pittsburg office isn’t exactly a secret — it’s in the phone book — sometimes criminals think they can get an edge on potential investigations.
    One criminal, Rosebrough said, broke a light out in the parking lot so he could go through the office’s trash can. Luckily, the KBI has a “very sophisticated surveillance” system that took video of the whole incident.
    All told, the KBI keeps busy, which helps them keep a low profile.
    “We do a pretty good job working with law enforcement,” Rosebrough said. “We are very meticulous. We do solve a lot of crimes. I don’t think I have any unsolved crimes sitting on my desk since I got here. I inherited a few [that are still unsolved]. But very few we get go unsolved now.”
    Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 140.

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