News

Urban Crime Summit convenes Monday at UMKC

Updated: 2013-09-16T02:59:33Z

By GLENN E. RICE

The Kansas City Star

Over the next four days, some of the nation’s leading criminal justice experts will join law enforcement leaders and community activists here and in St. Louis to discuss ways to loosen the grip crime and gun violence have on the state’s largest urban centers.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said the goal of the first Urban Crime Summit is to examine best practices to reduce crime in both cities and devise a list of recommendations that would help state legislators create new laws.

“Too much time has passed since state government has really tried to explore the issues surrounding urban crime in these two metropolitan areas,” Koster said in a phone interview. “Too frequently, the Missouri legislature is seen as not focusing on these types of issues, and Jefferson City is painted as an entity that spends more time on rural issues.”

The conference’s speakers include New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté, Mayor Sly James, U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. Kelly is scheduled to speak at 9:45 a.m. today on how New York City has reduced crime.

Other summit topics include gang violence, crime-mapping, hot-spot policing, mental health, crime-fighting technology, strategies to reduce gun violence, and the challenges facing felons when re-entering society. The first two days of the summit will be at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The final two days will be in St. Louis.

It is open to the public.

This marks the first time that state resources will be used to address urban violence, Koster said. The summit is the second statewide crime-fighting effort convened by Koster, who in 2010 led a task force on domestic violence to update laws that had not been reviewed comprehensively since the 1980s.

The conference also satisfies a pledge Koster made last year after The Star published a two-day series that highlighted victim cooperation problems in nonfatal shooting cases. The Star’s analysis found that 60 percent of shooting victims wounded in 2011 did not cooperate with Kansas City police, who then shut down the cases. Because so few cases were fully investigated, just 10 percent of shootings that year resulted in criminal charges.

At the end of the summit, organizers will develop five to 10 recommendations that law enforcement and municipal leaders in Kansas City and St. Louis could use to fight crime. Those recommendations will be sent to state lawmakers and possibly used to draft new crime-fighting legislation.

Koster said his office would take the lead in devising those recommendations with input from both cities. A final draft of the recommendations is expected to be completed by November.

James said he hopes the summit highlights the need to look at violent crime in St. Louis and Kansas City differently from the rest of the state.

“These two metro areas have very different challenges than rural areas, and that one-size-fits-all approach that is imposed on us doesn’t work really well,” James said. “We need to be learning about best practices from other areas and making contacts with experts that can help us make the two cities safer.”

The summit reflects a huge shift in thinking that could lead to realistic and meaningful public policy changes, James said.

Forté is scheduled to give a 15-minute presentation on the challenges of urban crime in Kansas City. Unemployment, urban blight and inadequate housing all have an impact on crime, he said. Mentoring, tutoring and spending time with children can help break the cycle of violence.

“There is a whole group of young people who are coming up that are not into crime,” Forté said. “Everything is not a government function; just reading to kids could have an impact on crime.”

Other presenters will include Harold Pollack, a co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, who will discuss violent crime’s cost to public policy, and Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center of the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C, who will address how cellphones, surveillance cameras and gunshot detection systems can help fight crime.

“There are also the technologies that we use every day that become tools to prevent crime even though they were not designed to do so,” La Vigne said.

Koster said the summit will present many of the challenges of urban crime but also opportunities to find workable solutions that involve government, law enforcement and citizens.

“Everyone understands that building solid communities begins with a feeling of personal safety that each of us enjoy as we live in those communities, and we can’t build those communities if people don’t feel safe walking down the streets,” he said.

To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send email to grice@kcstar.com.

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