Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said Friday that he expects to launch a statewide task force next year to examine urban violence and victim cooperation problems, including ones outlined in a recent Star series, “Many Bullets, Little Blame.”
The Star’s analysis found that 60 percent of shooting victims wounded last year 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 last year resulted in criminal charges. Jackson County prosecutors said that in most cases they need victims’ cooperation to pursue charges. But when shooters figure out they can get away with shooting people, authorities lose any deterrent effect, national experts told The Star.
“Your findings are fascinating,” Koster said. “They caused a lot of people to stop and think.”
The Star’s project outlined how domestic violence cases in the 1980s shared similar problems of victim reluctance and an unfriendly legal system. A statewide task force launched by Gov. John Ashcroft helped change laws and policies and created more empathy for domestic violence victims, who couldn’t help themselves, The Star noted.
Koster led a task force on domestic violence in 2010 to update laws that hadn’t been comprehensively reviewed since the 1980s.
He said he already wanted to start a similar task force on urban violence because of continuing concerns about the homicide rates in the state’s two biggest cities.
“Your recent set of articles added another chapter to that discussion,” he said.
The domestic violence task force revealed that jurisdictions with the best victim cooperation sent detectives or victim advocates to meet with victims as soon as possible, Koster said, “to establish a rapport face to face, not on the phone, not through a letter.” The task force recommended that police chiefs prioritize resources so detectives could “get out of their chairs and pay visits to victims to explain the process,” he said.
“The human connection is really important,” Koster said.
Gaining victims’ cooperation is preferable to trying to force them to testify; a practice that proved unsuccessful in the 1990s, Koster said.
“All it did was build up distrust on both sides,” he said.
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté already has begun trying to improve how his department treats victims by starting a Community Support Division.