The mayor laid it out definitively: Don’t ask about silver-bullet fixes to reduce violent crime in Kansas City.
Don’t think that just one part of the community needs to shape up and suddenly fly right to curb the crime rate.
No, to “solve” the issue of violence, Kansas City first must approach it as a public health issue. And the challenge must be embraced by everyone: civic leaders and average folks, white and black, gay and straight, rich, poor and those whose finances fall somewhere in the middle.
This effort is not glamorous. It doesn’t involve new policing strategies or a radical new approach to firearms. This advice, offered during Thursday’s rollout of recommendations from the Citizens Task Force on Violence, is laudable.
“Every time we have someone lost in this community to violence, we are all diminished,” Mayor Sly James said.
City Councilwoman Jolie Justus echoed those sentiments. Justus chaired the task force, which has been working for months, gathering input, assessing local strengths and seeking best practices. And she explained the imperative to address the culture of violence from a public health perspective.
That’s an approach that guided the task force’s recommendations. It called for developing a youth master plan to coordinate the services, supports and opportunities that children need to thrive. And it urged a government-assisted, detailed study of the increase in homicides, as well as a fatality review team to study each domestic violence homicide.
The group noted that a well-designed review of fatalities “recognizes that violent death is a premature and preventable community crisis.”
Since 1965, homicide and suicide have consistently been among the 15 leading causes of U.S. deaths. Reducing those numbers requires a recognition that violence affects enough of the population that the counteraction must be broad and preventative.
Consider how sociologists, doctors and eventually the general public began addressing smoking and drunk driving deaths. It took convincing people to behave differently through public health campaigns: Buckle up. Don’t smoke.
Now, apply that approach to violence. Think about how adverse childhood experiences — poverty, trauma such as abuse or hunger in a child’s home — can be huge indicators for whether someone will wind up a victim or a perpetrator of violence later in life.
Addressing changes in behavior that would affect the homicide rate might include understanding how stress plays a role in the development of coping skills in young people.
The task force didn’t ignore the role of guns or police. Of the 127 homicides in Kansas City in last year, 116 involved firearms. But state and federal law prohibits cities from passing firearms regulations.
If the recommendations of the Citizens Task Force on Violence wind up on a proverbial shelf, unused and forgotten, it won’t be because they focused on the wrong things. It will result from a lack of buy-in within many sectors of Kansas City, a general reluctance to make the commitment necessary to tackle this issue in a serious way.
This citizens’ task force got it right. The work begins now.