On November 26, Fort Lauderdale Police found Bob Karpinen slumped over dead on a bench at Colee Hammock Park. Identifying the body wasn't difficult — the 58-year-old had an ID in his wallet and a pill bottle with his name and his doctor's name listed on the side. Officers Jesus Gonzalez and Scott Bellinger filled out a report, jotting down contact information for Karpinen's 77-year-old mother in Delray Beach.
But for some reason, neither officer bothered contacting her or anyone else in the family. Within hours,
Eight days later, Bob's brother Jim walked into the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and tried to file a missing person report. He told Officer Christopher Kuras he hadn't heard from Bob since he was released from a detox center more than a week earlier. Their mother could see he hadn't spent any money, and Jim was concerned that Bob — an on-again, off-again drug addict — missed a doctor's appointment where he would have gotten more pain pills. Bob never skipped those appointments.
Stunningly, police missed a second opportunity to notify the family
"If we didn't find him, he'd still be missing," Jim says. "They deemed it natural causes, had his body removed, threw his stuff in a locker, and forgot about it."
It's unclear exactly why police never notified the family of Bob's death. But in an email, FLPD spokeswoman Tracy Figone admits that one way or another, the department screwed up.
"Standard operating procedure for death investigations requires timely notification to next of kin. Unfortunately, investigators neglected to make this important notification to the family members of Mr. Karpinen," Figone writes.
On top of the communication failure, Jim says the timing couldn't have been worse. Without any news, the family spent the holidays worried sick about Bob, who had a wife and teen son waiting at home for him in Miami Shores.
"His 18-year-old son doesn't understand why his dad was sitting in the morgue for 41 days, alone, through the holidays, when we could have buried him," Jim says. "Somebody dropped the ball."
Based on his conversations with various police employees, Jim believes part of the problem is that the city's databases don't always talk to each other. He says he was told by a woman in the evidence lockup that the computer systems aren't unified to allow police to easily cross-reference missing persons with death reports.
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Even if the system had been synchronized, though, it might not have helped. Reports show police refused to enter Bob into the missing
"They just assumed he was out on a bender," Jim says. "Because he had drug addiction issues, they just treated him like he was
Figone says the department has "extended a sincere apology" to the family, adding that internal policies may be rewritten.
"As a result of this incident, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department will review all policies and standard operating procedures regarding death and missing persons investigations to ensure this will not occur again in the future," she says.