Missouri attorney general touts ‘gun court’ as crime summit begins in KC

09/16/2013 6:10 PM

09/16/2013 6:22 PM

A court docket solely dedicated to crime involving handguns and other firearms could be a key ingredient in helping authorities in Kansas City and St. Louis stem gun violence, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said Monday.

Koster discussed the idea on the first day of a four-day Urban Crime Summit. The event, which began Monday at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, is designed to examine best practices to reduce crime in both cities and come up with recommendations that would help state legislators create new laws to fight crime.

The first two days are taking place in Kansas City. The event will move to St. Louis on Wednesday and conclude Thursday.

A gun court proposal probably will be among the recommendations that emerge from the summit, Koster said. People arrested for using guns to commit certain crimes would pay higher cash-only bonds and would face a criminal trial much faster than normal, he said. It would help keep criminals off the streets and help local authorities better prioritize gun crimes, he said.

A gun court would have a deterrent effect and help take armed offenders off the streets as quickly as possible, Kansas City Mayor Sly James said.

“We need to be sending a signal that if you commit a crime with a gun, you’re going to have a very hard time getting out of jail,” James said.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay proposed the idea in February. That plan seeks to change how gun cases pass through the courts by assigning all weapons cases before two judges as part of an “armed offender docket.” Those crimes currently are handled by judges who also hear other felony cases.

“If you commit a crime with a gun in our state then you should get special attention,” Slay said Monday. “We are going to let you know that we are not going to tolerate illegal guns or an abuse of guns in our cities, and if you do, you are going to get higher bond and if you are convicted then you are going to get a higher jail sentence.”

A gun court in Kansas City would enable authorities to work with researchers at UMKC to study gun crimes, said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who supports the idea.

“The armed defender court offers us just another tool for us to do our jobs,” Baker said.

More details about the proposal are expected to be discussed when the summit moves to St. Louis. At the end of the summit, organizers will come up 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 to possibly draft new crime-fighting legislation.

Also Monday at the summit, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said violent crime in his city took a dramatic drop over that last decade. In 1990, New York had more than 2,200 homicides. That number dropped to 419 in 2012. Other violent crimes also decreased, Kelly said.

Authorities there utilized more surveillance cameras, engaged clergy and community leaders and also launched specialized units that addressed domestic violence and youth crime and targeted certain criminals.

The department’s “stop-and-frisk” policy, through which officers stopped, questioned and sometimes patted down individuals, helped lower the city’s crime rate. Kelly said he strongly disagreed with a recent U.S. District Court ruling that declared that at least 200,000 stops were made without reasonable suspicion and were intentionally racially biased.

Kelly said the city did not practice racial profiling. The city plans to appeal the ruling.

“We have put in place a series of tactics and strategies that have worked for us that are lawful; they are well appreciated by the communities that we serve,” he said.

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