When it comes to murder rates, Kansas City is a tale of two cities.
By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH
The Kansas City Star
The citys land area of almost 320 square miles is split roughly in half by the Missouri River.
South of the river an area with 302,696 residents in the 2010 census the city has recorded an average of 110 homicides the last five years. Thats an annual rate close to 36 per 100,000 residents.
South of the river, Kansas City matches the stereotypical views of many area residents: Its a dangerous place to live, especially between Troost Avenue east to Interstate 435.
The ominous news for Mayor Sly James, business leaders and many passionate neighborhood leaders south of the river is that this part of Kansas City is the one that gets most of the headlines for violent crime. Kansas City as a whole has gained a national reputation for having one of the highest murder rates in the country.
But theres another angle.
The other half of Kansas City is relatively safe.
North of the Missouri River the fast-growing section that had 157,091 people in 2010 the city has had a total of 15 homicides over the last five years, or an average of only three annually. Thats an annual rate of only 1.9 per 100,000 residents.
This big section of Kansas City compares positively with the regions largest suburbs when it comes to homicides.
• Independence (population 116,830) has had 28 murders over the last five years. The annual homicide rate is almost five per 100,000 people, or more than twice the rate of Kansas City north of the river.
• Olathe (population 125,872) suffered a total of 13 murders from 2008-2012, for an annual rate of two per 100,000 residents. Thats slightly higher than Kansas City north of the river.
• Overland Park (population 173,372) has had eight homicides in the last five years, for an annual murder rate of .5 per 100,000 residents, lowest of the large suburbs.
• And Kansas City, Kan. (population 145,786) has had 153 murders from 2008-2012. The annual homicide rate is 21 per 100,000 residents.
As for Kansas City, combining figures for north and south of the river, its overall murder rate for the last five years approaches 25 per 100,000 residents. Thats easily the highest in the metropolitan area.
Demographics help explain some of the problems in Kansas City. The predominantly white section north of the river features newer housing stock and far lower numbers of low-income residents than south of the river.
The much lower rates for murder and violent crime north of the river contribute to this part of Kansas City quickly gaining population. Indeed, it surged 32 percent from the 2000 to the 2010 censuses, while the city south of the river lost 6 percent of its residents.
By comparison over that 10-year period, Overland Parks population was up 15 percent, Olathe gained 35 percent, Independence grew by 3 percent and Kansas City, Kan., declined .7 percent.
The Mid-America Regional Council expects Platte and Clay counties to grow steadily over the next 25 years. Kansas City which makes up about half the population of those two counties likely will benefit from new residents flowing to the area.
The safety of the Northland obviously will play a role in that development. So will the quality of the schools, such as the well-regarded Park Hill and Liberty districts, along with the large North Kansas City School District.
The growth of Kansas City north of the river is excellent news for all city residents, partly because it is creating a larger tax base that can support all city services.
Of course, if Kansas Citys police, elected leaders and residents could ever find ways to consistently reduce the homicide rate south of the river, that would be the best outcome of all.