Find a back issue

Why We Devoted 10,000 Words to DPD’s Child Abuse Squad

It’s rare that we devote 10,000 words to a story. But occasionally a story comes along that requires it. After Tim Rogers and I read the first draft of Jamie Thompson’s “When the Bough Breaks,” we both looked at each other and agreed, this couldn’t be cut. It was too important of a story to tell. It was also a tremendously difficult one.

When Jamie started reporting in 2011, she couldn’t imagine what the story would become. Her idea was simple: follow the detectives within the Child Abuse Squad, see what they see, understand the inner workings of that unit.

On December 7, 2011, at 8:30 p.m., Jamie’s opportunity came. She got the call about a new case, changed out of her pajamas, and drove straight to the unit’s headquarters. The head of the department had granted her access to follow along, which she did the whole night, riding with detectives to the hospital, to the suspect’s house, to police headquarters in the Cedars for an interrogation, and back to the unit’s HQ, staying until the sun came up. In the coming days, the routine would continue, shadowing as detectives investigated the case of Joniah Baker, an 11-month-old boy.

For the next two and a half years, Jamie followed the case as it wound through the justice system. She also kept tabs on the department, checking in, watching as internal changes occurred and the seemingly endless log of cases grew even larger. She spent hours interviewing prosecutors, CPS workers, judges, and doctors. Hours combing through data. Hours sitting with the head of the squad, trying to comprehend how someone could harm a child and how she could stomach seeing such devastation weekly if not daily.

The Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center, the organization that houses the Child Abuse Squad in addition to CPS and an assistant district attorney, has said there’s a child abuse epidemic in Dallas. Since 2011, the number of cases handled by the center has increased nearly 24 percent, with a record number of cases in 2013. But truly quantifying the issue is an impossible challenge.

Jamie provides a harrowing, heart-wrenching look into the system. She makes us realize that Joniah Baker’s case is not unique, but by telling his story through the tireless detectives who set out to solve the crime, a voice can be given to the voiceless.