Year after year, Kansas City has one of the highest murder rates in America.
As The Star’s Editorial Board embarks on a closer examination of the homicide issue in 2014, it’s crucial to first review figures regarding some of the usual suspects — such as racial demographics and poverty rates — often labeled as contributing factors behind violent crimes.
The frustrating conclusion: There’s no clear demographic or economic explanation for why Kansas Citians too often kill each other.
Here’s a deeper look at reported murder rates for the 50 largest U.S. cities in 2012, the last full year available from the FBI, plus 2010 data from the U.S. Census Bureau for minority populations and poverty rates. All 50 cities had populations of 360,000 or more.
• Kansas City had 22.6 murders per 100,000 residents — or 105 deaths in a city of just over 460,000.
That was the fifth bloodiest count in the country, behind only Oakland (31.8), Baltimore (34.9), New Orleans (53.2) and Detroit (54.6). (See chart.)
On the other end of the scale, the best 10 cities had murder rates of 4.6 per 100,000 people or less. The top three were Mesa, Ariz., (3.1), Portland (3.3) and El Paso (3.4).
A note about St. Louis: Its homicide rate was staggeringly high — 35.5 per 100,000 — but the city no longer is among the nation’s 50 largest.
• Kansas City had the 13th highest percentage of black residents — 29.9 percent.
The statistics for all 50 large cities do show a correlation between murder rates and black populations.
Seven of the 10 worst cities for murders also ranked in the top 10 for percentages of black residents: Detroit (1st in black population), Baltimore (2), Memphis (3), New Orleans (4), Atlanta (5), Cleveland (6) and Philadelphia (8).
Conversely, 15 of the 25 cities with the lowest murder rates had black populations under 10 percent.
Notably, Kansas City’s murder rate still was worse than nine other cities that had higher percentages of black residents. They included Atlanta (54 percent black population), Washington, D.C., (50.7 percent), Milwaukee (40 percent), Charlotte (35 percent) and Chicago (32.9 percent).
• Kansas City had the 35th highest percentage of Hispanic residents — exactly 10 percent.
The figures for all 50 cities showed there wasn’t much correlation between Hispanic population and crime rates.
For example, six of the 10 cities with the lowest crime rates had Hispanic populations of 25 percent or more. Several cities with comparable or higher Hispanic populations showed up in the middle of the rankings. Two of the 10 cities with the highest murder rates had Hispanic populations of 25 percent or more.
• Kansas City had the 27th highest rate of residents living below the federal poverty level — 20.7 percent.
That’s a fairly positive but still puzzling statistic.
Figures for all 50 large cities show there is some link between high poverty rates and high murder rates. Yet Kansas City — even with its middle-of-the-pack poverty statistics — had horrible homicide numbers.
Six of the worst 10 cities for murders also ranked in the top 10 for highest poverty: Detroit (1st in poverty rates), Cleveland (2), New Orleans (6), Memphis (7), Philadelphia (8) and Atlanta (10).
At the other end, six of the 10 cities with the lowest poverty rates were among the 10 cities with the lowest crime rates, too.
Consider a few other issues.
Size of a city didn’t really matter when it comes to homicides. Kansas City’s population (37th largest) does not explain its horrifying ranking on the national list. The 10 cities with the worst murder rates ranged from Chicago (3rd largest) and Philadelphia (5) down to Oakland (47) and New Orleans (50).
Kansas City’s spot on the map didn’t much matter either. Middle-of-the-country cities with the 10 highest murder rates besides Kansas City were Detroit, Cleveland, Memphis and Chicago. But there were also cities from the Deep South (New Orleans and Atlanta) and the East Coast (Baltimore, Philadelphia), plus Oakland.
Finally, consider other information compiled last year about Kansas City and 10 of its mostly Midwestern peers. Consultants provided it to the citizens group that took months to examine whether the Police Department should change from state to local control.
Kansas City had one of the higher levels of home ownership among the peer cities and was just above the middle in median household income. Yet Kansas City also had the most murders per capita, except for St. Louis.
Clearly, the cause of Kansas City’s stubbornly high murder rate lies in something more than these numbers. It’s essential for the community to search honestly for deeper explanations and to find the remedies.