Another year, another 100-plus homicides in Kansas City.
We’re stuck in a whirlpool of violence that appears to have no end: 135 killings in 2018; 151 in 2017; 131 in 2016; 111 in 2015. And on it goes. Kansas City now persistently rates as one of the most deadly cities in America.
It’s a distinction no one wants, but as of late, no one seems to know exactly what to do about it.
We’ve tried our No Violence Alliance. We’ve tried social workers. We’ve tried providing jobs to the crime-prone, and our police officers have pleaded with inner-city residents for more cooperation. We’ve organized neighborhoods and career criminal police units and funded an anti-illegal drug organization. We’ve hired more officers and filled our jails and tried an intensive police presence on crime-ridden blocks. We’ve done community policing, and we’ve talked to experts.
Yet the body count in 2018 totaled another 135 homicides and hundreds more in aggravated assaults.
The city seems bewildered by it all and utterly without solutions. With that in mind, The Star’s Editorial Board reached out to community leaders who deal with the fallout from all the bullets each day to ask this question:
What one thing does Kansas City need to do now to ease the ongoing violence that plagues our city? Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Jean Peters Baker, Jackson County prosecutor
We must enlist new, nontraditional partners into the front lines of reducing violence. I’m convinced the only way we will climb out of this is through those unlikely new partnerships. I hope to see the business community and neighborhood groups empowered at our table.
Rosilyn Temple, founder and executive director, KC Mothers in Charge
Kansas City is a small community, and most of the violence is generational in families. We need to address the violence before it turns into a homicide. Most victims or perpetrators of homicide, their names have come across the police department’s radar before. It starts with addressing your own home and neighborhood. When you know someone is having problems — mental health issues, drug addiction, abuse, domestic violence, etc. — don’t turn your head. Reach out and speak up. We always say it’s not our problem, but it is our problem.
Nathan Garrett, president, Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners
Participate. We cannot, alone, arrest our way out of this or deploy enough officers to make a sustainable difference. The only way this works in any meaningful, long-term way is for the community, and I’m speaking most directly to the impacted community, to rise up, set all other differences aside, and take their neighborhoods away from violence. We need to double down on neighborhood and community-based programs designed to improve relationships between the community and police, and we need the affected community to go all-in with us. Rarely — very rarely — is someone subjected to violence without someone — other than the victim and offender — knowing the complete story. We aren’t short on awareness; we’re short on participation.
Damon Daniel, president, AdHoc Group Against Crime
One way many residents in the Kansas City metropolitan area can help reduce violence is to provide opportunities for those in underserved communities. First, by simply giving time to mentor a youth or young adult. Many youths in the Kansas City area lack exposure to a positive role model. Having a positive role model in one’s life can begin to create opportunities where there are very few.
We have to get to a place in our community where we invest in relationships — the kind of relationships that leverage healthier choices and create pathways for success. Jackson County Family Court has opportunities for mentoring. Local nonprofits such as High Aspirations, Higher Impact and MOVE are good organizations to partner with. And let’s not forget about the Boy and Girl Scouts, where children learn life skills. If we do these things, we can begin to break the cycle of violence.
Rick Armstrong, president, Kansas City Crime Commission
I must contend that our local law enforcement and prosecutors in the metro area are doing a commendable job with the resources they are provided. I believe it is important to work smartly with partners and focus prevention efforts to have an impact on the small percentage of offenders committing the clear majority of crimes. One such project that helps do that, which is supported by city and state resources, has been the successful Prospect Corridor Neighborhood Assistance Program. This crime prevention initiative allows our Crime Stoppers 816-474-TIPS Hotline Program, Second Chance Reentry Program and the Metropolitan Community Service Program to focus much of their time and effort in neighborhoods with the highest incidents of crime.
Jeff Simon, lawyer and former president, Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners
In the short term, we need to immediately fix the problems at the Jackson County jail, which probably means building a new one. The conditions inside the jail are deplorable, and this isn’t just a disgraceful injustice for the inmates — it is a safety issue for our whole community. The jail overcrowding, staffing and funding problems frustrate the efforts of judges, police and prosecutors to take the really “bad guys” off the street. It is not unusual for a person arrested on a violent offense to be released the next day because there is no room in the jail. For the long term, we must collectively, as a broad community, begin to provide hope for the hopeless.
Karen Boyd, executive director, Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council
My hope at this time, as it has been for several decades, is that the Kansas City community realizes that there is no magic bullet — in other words, not one thing to do now to crack down on the ongoing violence that plagues our city. Rather, we should finally embrace an integrated healthy living strategy to address the state of our collective community that reduces crime and violence. This includes deploying resources on a more rapid basis that results in a sustainable, bustling community of green living and recreation spaces characterized by beautiful and energy-efficient housing, walking trails, bicycle paths and water parks. (We need) culturally diverse markets and commercial enterprises of all types and supporting, accessible and affordable healthy living, skill-building resources and services.
Pat McInerney, attorney and former president, Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners
Kansas City has to tailor violence reduction efforts to the places where violence happens. In a big and diverse city like Kansas City, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. For instance, the great success that the Northeast neighborhood has recently enjoyed is uniquely theirs because it brought together critical Northeast community members to design an approach that works — in Northeast. Those same things, however, can’t necessarily be exported to unique neighborhoods like Westport or to Blue Hills, but the approach can be. Solutions in other parts of the city depend on collaboration between people in those neighborhoods and law enforcement, designing efforts that work where they live. The community really is the largest piece of the solution.
Leland Shurin, vice president, Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners
There is no single action that the city or KCPD can take to reduce crime. If there were, all governments would do so. There are, however, numerous interactive actions that the city and KCPD could take that would help reduce crime. Those include: Add 200 police officers (although the budget of the city does not currently make that possible); create more employment, construction, transportation, education and social services in the inner city; substantially increase the marketing of the $10,000 anonymous witness program; work more effectively with religious, business and community leaders to get witnesses to crimes to come forward to help the police; substantially reduce the number of guns in the city; require that stolen guns be reported to the police; and keep persons charged with violent crime in the county jail until trial.
We should remember that all violent crimes, including homicides, are down in 2018 from 2017. Part of that is the result of the highly innovative Kansas City Police Department and the great cooperation among the KCPD, Kansas City officials, the county prosecutors’ offices and federal prosecutors.
Lee Barnes, Kansas City Council member
The one thing that we can do to deter crime in our community is to develop stronger partnerships and relationships among neighborhood association leaders, community interactive police officers and community-based nonprofit organizations. Each of these three groups can provide vital information about specific dynamics of the community. After these relationships are fostered, we can use the “focused deterrence policing” strategy of community policing. Focus deterrence hones in on specific problems, such as drug dealing, gangs, generally violent behavior or gun violence. It then focuses on the individuals and groups who drive most of that activity, particularly those with criminal records and those involved in gang activity.
Tracie McClendon-Cole, deputy director, Kansas City Health Department
The impact of violence is beyond the sole responsibility of the criminal justice system. Successful violence prevention results from community-wide participation as citizens; this involvement reinforces peace, safety and nonviolence as the norm. The social norms approach to behavior change is called the “science of the positive.” No scare tactics. It simply builds upon the positives already in the community, using peer crowd segmentation methods to associate living violence-free with desirable, healthy lifestyles.
Partnering with Google, Amazon and others is essential for distributing the healthy norms on their platforms through interactive marketing techniques (e.g. traditional paid media, engagement through digital platforms and local outreach).
Rex Archer, director, Kansas City Health Department
When epidemics are not brought under control, it is due to not understanding the root causes and not applying cost-effective interventions. Funding a public health approach to violence prevention in the 50 largest cities (similar to the highly successful Ryan White HIV/Aids prevention program) is the best way to reduce this public health epidemic of violence.
Hot-spot policing and doubling the police force for 10 years reduced annual victimization by about 11 percent. A public health approach like Aim4Peace has been shown to be significantly more effective, and it reduced victimization by 13 percent over 10 years. A public health approach is more cost-effective than either the threat of or actual incarceration.
Jalen Anderson, Jackson County legislator
The trials that we face as a community are a stain on all of us and not just those who commit these acts of violence. Kansas City faces a true trial of our times. Violence cannot be solved with one law or one group. This will take dedication to our fellow citizens street by street. Investment must be a major focus to start to curb the violence. This is a problem that is caused by lack of education, economic support and racism that has plagued our city. Looking forward, the economic interest in certain parts of the city must end. From state, county and city government, we must invest in a master plan to rebuild and refocus on ending systemic poverty.
Ellen Cook, president, Ruskin Heights Homes Association
Missouri is a diverse state economically, geographically and politically. If it truly “takes a village” to raise a good citizen, and the incidents of violence seem to be escalating in recent times, we must look at the “villages” we live in.
Rural areas of the state should not dictate the policies of our cities. Gun laws, for instance, which might make sense in Pettis County, are not germane to the problems in Jackson County, which has three of the largest cities in the state. The codes, ordinances and laws which govern our communities must be enacted and enforced based on the actual area in which we live. Unfortunately, we do not all live in the same Missouri.
Rick Smith, Kansas City police Chief
As a police department, we think it’s important to make better connections with the good people of Kansas City so they feel comfortable telling us about those who are acting badly. Neighborhoods are safer when residents are engaged with each other and with police, and we want every Kansas City neighborhood to be a safe one.
Our enforcement efforts will focus on gun violence and illegal gun crimes. Stopping the most egregious perpetrators of these crimes will go a long way to improving our city’s safety. We are working closely with the United States Attorney’s Office, federal law enforcement partners and county prosecutors to enhance the investigations and prosecutions of Kansas City’s most violent offenders.
Al Brooks, former city councilman, police officer, police board member, and founder, AdHoc Group Against Crime
(The focus) should be on true “community policing” where officers volunteer to become community policing officers (CPO). CPOs are assigned to the high-crime, violent sections of the city. Their clothing will have affixed on it KCPD community policing officer. They will answer no calls, except in case of extreme emergencies. They will be provided cars, bikes and they will walk. They will be responsible for knowing the law-abiding citizens and the criminal elements. They will spend most of their time out of their cars. They will know the business owners, school personnel, kids and their families in the schools in their respective areas and develop relationships. They will know the church leaders and congregants from storefront to mega. They will attend community activities. A community policing program cannot be successful with police officers who spend time responding to calls.
The Rev. Dr. Vernon Percy Howard Jr., senior pastor, St. Mark Union Church and president, Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City
Crime and violence here disproportionately manifest in particular zip codes of Kansas City where mostly people of color and the poorer residents reside. The individuals such as myself, who live and serve in these zip codes, have been the decades-long victims of a lack of economic investment, lesser quality of schools and failures in effectively reining in the illegal drug trade and weapon proliferation enterprises.
Years ago, city leaders assembled and made a commitment to redevelop downtown Kansas City. Until we care as much for these residents in the inner city as we do about downtown development, we will continue to be a tale of two cities, one generally violent and unsafe and the other protecting itself from the generally violent side.
Helpful also, would be for more city leaders to support our $15 per hour living-wage ordinance, our One City Central City Economic Development initiative and broader and deeper affordable housing initiatives. It is simply a matter of priority. One thing is for sure: None of us will be free from crime and violence until all of us are free.
Rashid Junaid, program manager, Aim4Peace: Violence Prevention Program
The reason for most of the homicides in our city is arguments, according to the KCPD. That’s a strong indication that we are lacking conflict resolution skills as a city. We have no peace. The community suffers from the lack of conflict-resolution education in the home and in our schools. Conflict resolution must become a part of our community discourse and education. It must be a part of the curriculum in the schools starting in preschool until they walk across the stage and grab their diploma. Our advice about conflict: 1. Don’t use violence to resolve a conflict. 2. Be willing to compromise. 3. Don’t get others involved in your conflict. Using these tools we can begin to have peace.