Kansas City’s steep drop in homicides last year is being praised by law enforcement groups nationwide.
Back home, though, police officials are nervously eyeing the numbers. Kansas City logged 37 homicides in the first six months of this year. That’s one more than over the same period last year, which ended with 80 murders. Not bad, but not the improvement everyone is hoping for.
Last year’s murder count was the lowest in almost 50 years, and a marked decrease from 2013, when Kansas City tallied 100 homicides, the fourth worst rate among the nation’s 50 largest cities. But even last year’s count places Kansas City far too high on the list of violence-prone cities.
The good news is that a concerted effort to focus on people in violence-prone circles continues to be effective. Known as the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, the effort involves police, local and federal prosecutors and community groups. It identifies people likely to be involved in violence and offers them a choice: Accept help and leave the criminal lifestyle or face intensive law enforcement scrutiny.
“The number of group-related homicides continues to fall,” said police Maj. Joe McHale, who directs the No Violence Alliance.
The Police Department is working to make the alliance’s strategies part of its DNA, said Maj. David Lindaman, who is in charge of the violent crimes division.
That means more of a focus on individuals with the potential for violence. It means vigorous investigation of crimes such as assaults and robberies, even if victims aren’t inclined to cooperate.
If someone fires a gun at someone else and police can’t gather enough evidence for an assault charge, they might arrest the person for firing from a moving car, or being intoxicated, or being a felon in possession of a handgun.
Criminal activity generally escalates, so the idea is to disrupt and discourage it as quickly as possible, Lindaman said.
Unfortunately, some of the least predictable crimes are those that occur inside the home. The first homicide victim of 2015 was a 2-year-old boy, Lorenzo Estrada, who died at a hospital Jan. 9 after being violently shaken and jumped on. His mother’s boyfriend is charged with his murder.
Calia Elia Chishahayo, 2, was found dead with burns and other injuries on March 6. Her mother is charged in her death. The mother of 1-year-old Demyla Frazier is also charged with murder after the child suffocated on March 26.
Domestic violence has been a factor in the murders of at least eight adults this year. Four of the victims were male.
McHale is exploring whether the “focused deterrence” tactics that the No Violence Alliance uses to reduce group-related homicides can be used to curb murders where domestic violence plays a role. That would involve identifying people likely to use violence against a family member or intimate partner, and interceding.
“We have to go slow,” McHale said. “There’s no room for error with domestic violence.”
Another area of concern for police and the alliance has been an escalation in violent acts committed by teenagers who embark on criminal lifestyles at a young age and escalate as they grow older. Three young men who fit that description, two 18-year-olds and a 17-year-old, are charged in the January murder of 14-year-old Alexis Kane. The middle school student was beaten, shot and abandoned at a south Kansas City water park on Jan. 11.
A particularly senseless murder of a child remains unsolved. Amorian Hale, 3, was killed in his bed on May 31 when someone fired at least 20 times at his home on Walrond Avenue.
Lindaman said the department has received “an outpouring of tips,” and he is optimistic about making an arrest.
That isn’t always the case. At least two dozen persons were in the area when 18-year-old Asaan Williams, an East High School senior, was fatally shot near 38th Street and Kensington Avenue on the evening of March 13. But witnesses mostly have remained silent, and the murder remains unsolved.
There is good reason to believe that the new tactics and alliances aimed at reducing violence are having an effect. Kansas City has gotten smarter about preventing and solving murders.
Nevertheless, too many people are inclined toward violence and armed to kill. Firearms were used in 26 of this year’s homicides.
It remains essential for people to speak out against the rampant gun violence that terrorizes neighborhoods, and to help police get violent individuals off the streets.