Coming off a historically low homicide total in 2014, leaders of the Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KC NoVA) were optimistic about what 2015 would bring.
Instead the city has seen a significant upward tick in killings, and on Monday, leaders of KC NoVA met with the media to discuss what’s happened and how they plan to proceed in the coming year.
Last year, with 81 homicides, Kansas City recorded its lowest total since 1972. But with 106 killings so far in 2015, the city has tied its second highest total in five years.
“We are certainly not happy,” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, a member of the NoVA governing board.
But then again, Baker said NoVA leaders weren’t happy with last year’s total either.
And they said Monday they are committed to NoVA and its goal of reducing violent crime and homicide.
“We keep fighting,” said Rosilyn Temple of Mothers in Charge, a group of women who have lost children to homicide. “We don’t give up.”
NoVA employs what is called focused deterrence. It identifies and targets the small subset of individuals and groups responsible for the majority of violence in the city.
A breakdown of this year’s killings shows that the percentage of homicides committed by members of those groups is down from 2013, they said.
But while NoVA can affect the actions of those groups, it is not a cure-all to what Kansas City Mayor Sly James called the homicide disease.
Underlying issues such as poverty, lack of employment and education and the ready availability of guns are societal issues that must be addressed, he said.
“There are too many factors beyond NoVA’s control,” the mayor said.
Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney for Western Missouri, said that NoVA has been successful in forging a collaborative effort between leaders across the spectrum of law enforcement and government.
“No one group can solve this problem alone,” she said.
Looking forward to the new year, NoVA leaders they plan to expand training for patrol officers in the Kansas City Police Department so they can spread the no-violence message in the areas where they work.
Another initiative planned for 2016 is a tweak of the “call-in” component of NoVA. Periodically, individuals identified as key members of criminal groups are invited to meet with NoVA leaders to hear the message that violence will no longer be tolerated.
They are also encouraged to apply for social services so they can escape the criminal lifestyle.
Maj. Joe McHale, who has been project manager for KC NoVA and now heads the police department’s East Patrol division, said individuals who have declined those invitations in the past will be visited at their homes to receive the same message.
Those personal visits let them know that police know who they are and if they commit crimes there is a “certainty that they will be caught,” he said.
Ultimately, NoVA leaders emphasize that it is up to the community experiencing violent crime to help stop it.
And they have seen more willingness from members of the community to speak to police about crime and pass on what they know.
“The people most affected by crime and violence are tired of it,” James said.