In late 2013, Kansas City once again was barreling toward more than 100 murders in a year, retaining the ugly distinction of being one of Americas deadliest cities.
Unfortunately, the four members of the City Councils Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee the politicians charged with overseeing crime issues seemed almost oblivious to the crisis.
During nine hours of hearings at 10 public meetings in October, November and December, the committee discussed the topic of murder for 70 seconds.
The members chairman John Sharp, vice chairman Jermaine Reed, Michael Brooks and Scott Taylor thus continued their dismaying record of ambivalence throughout the year toward the citys longstanding homicide problem.
The four men represent more than 200,000 people in the three council districts whose neighborhoods are most dramatically affected by murders.
The Star last week reviewed videos of all 41 committee meetings in 2013 to see how the elected officials who are supposed to help guide the rest of the council on public safety handled the issue of murders. Because the hearings are aired on TV, they also can and should provide valuable information about public safety.
The panel met for just shy of 41 hours. But members talked about and heard testimony about homicides for less than two-and-a-half hours (see chart).
Thats a minuscule 6 percent of total meeting time.
The bulk of murder discussions occurred at only five meetings: two informational sessions about the citys new No Violence Alliance (NoVA) program, and once each on firearms-related murders, the citys Aim4Peace violence prevention program and gun violence.
To be sure, the committee in 2013 did discuss other important matters such as ambulance response times, animal shelters and ordinances aimed at reducing auto thefts. But the time spent on those and other topics, when compared to murders, often was way out of balance.
For instance, the committee talked about pet-related issues for almost an hour on Jan. 9, its first meeting of the year. That was more time than the panel spent discussing homicides for all of its next 17 meetings.
Another head-shaker: Police Chief Darryl Forté, the man in charge of a department of 2,000 people and a budget of more than $200 million, never appeared before the committee in 2013. By contrast, Fire Chief Paul Berardi was a regular guest.
City officials must make far better use of committee time in the future.
• Members need to be more curious and passionate, asking more pointed questions of many guests. Thats one way to get better information to the public.
Talking to Forté should be mandatory, at least on a quarterly basis. Is his hot-spot policing program in the most violent areas of the city working to reduce crime? Does the department need more officers to patrol the streets, a tactic other cities claim has reduced murders?
NoVA leaders also ought to regularly update the panel and public on its successes and challenges, especially given the programs newfound prominence.
• Leaders of community organizations, faith-based groups and neighborhoods most affected by murders should be heard from more often. Some of the most powerful testimony of 2013 came from Mothers in Charge, a group affected by homicides within their families.
But the panel could dig much more deeply, talking throughout the year to residents about how to reduce murders. More social services in their neighborhoods? More foot patrols by cops? More funding for Aim4Peace, or something else?
• Police representatives should be held more accountable for talking about murders. At more than two dozen committee meetings last year, captains or majors gave brief reports about what was happening in their patrol divisions. Yet not once in all that time did the four politicians press for lengthy explanations about how the police were combating murders. Indeed, police officials often seemed to deflect concern about homicides.
The nadir came Nov. 6 when a captain eschewing any talk about murders told committee members, Things are looking up in East Patrol. He also praised the panel for its work on a scrap metal ordinance, a show of back-patting that sat well with its members.
Thank you very much, captain, Sharp said at the end of the report.
Less than two months later East Patrol would end the year with 42 homicides in its boundaries accounting for almost 40 percent of the citys disgraceful total.