The homes along Norton Avenue where Alissia Canady drops off the student she is mentoring once were filled with working middle-class families.
But over the years, the neighborhood has changed.
Many of those families have moved away, leaving homes empty or simply abandoned.
That’s why Canady, who represents the 5th District on the Kansas City Council, was excited Tuesday when she heard Police Chief Darryl Forté throw out the idea of reallocating some money earmarked for hiring extra police officers toward demolishing abandoned properties in crime-ridden neighborhoods.
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“That is a great indication of his understanding of what the real underlying issues are with crime, and to the extent he can minimize the areas where criminals like to take over,” said Canady, who is chairwoman of the council’s Neighborhoods and Public Safety Committee. “Most of the violent crimes occur in these blighted areas.”
Forté, who discussed the idea Tuesday during the Board of Police Commissioners meeting, said he hasn’t done the math on the costs or worked out specific details. But in addition to demolishing abandoned properties, money could be used to replace sidewalks, install new curbs and repair streetlights.
“It is unpopular to speak of those things about a budget presented for the Police Department,” Forté said afterward. “Sometimes we think that throwing human capital at a problem will resolve the issues, but there are other issues in our community.”
Forté has tweeted in the last few days about how a trashy environment can lead to crime.
Seventy-five percent of the violent crimes in Kansas City occur in a 34-square-mile area roughly bounded by St. John Avenue on the north, 85th Street on the south, Troost Avenue on the west and Topping Avenue on the east. Additional officers soon will be deployed to those areas on weekends to increase police presence and address neighborhood violence, Forté said.
Instead of hiring 60 police officers, maybe the department should hire 55 and let the city use the extra funds to hire workers to demolish buildings and make other neighborhood improvements, Forté said.
“I understand the city’s position but as the chief of police, I am willing to use some of the money we might have been allocated to do some other things and not just focus on the human capital,” he said. “If we demolish some of those houses, put curbs in, do streetlights, then I am confident we can reduce crime in those areas.”
Crime frequently occurs in unkempt neighborhoods. If officers respond to a shooting on Norton Avenue, they may not know if the shooter is hiding in one of the abandoned houses, Canady said. It becomes a serious safety concern for officers.
It would cost the city millions of dollars to demolish all abandoned properties, Canady said.
City Manager Troy Schulte said Tuesday that the city had 875 dangerous buildings on its list and estimated it would take $10 million to eliminate them.
Alvin Brooks, a former mayor pro tem and a current police commissioner, said he supports the idea. Criminals sometimes abandon homicide victims’ bodies in areas known for illegal dumping. The body of a woman was found in a trash bag near 49th Street and Brooklyn Avenue last week.
“It was there because of trash and because the person or persons who put it there felt comfortable putting it there,” Brooks said.
Mayor Sly James said the idea would need careful scrutiny before proceeding. Roughly 72 percent of the city’s budget is already spent on public safety and there is not enough money to eliminate abandoned buildings.
“I kind of took that as a throwaway, in-the-world-of-possibilities type of a comment. I didn’t take it as something he was seriously thinking about to be honest,” James said following the police board meeting. “If he is, then I guess we will talk about it at budget time.”