May 3, 2014

Six more Kansas City deaths in April, but new tactics show promise

A new crime-fighting strategy in Kansas City possibly provides one explanation for a welcome drop in homicides so far this year. There is cautious optimism about enhanced cooperation among local and federal law enforcement agencies and a more aggressive stance toward individuals who are believed to be associated with violence.

The January shooting death of 24-year-old Brandon Arledge outside a downtown Kansas City nightclub remains an open case. But a 30-year-old man who allegedly was at the scene was charged this week with a weapons violation.

Eldon M. Cox, 30, is accused of unlawfully possessing a handgun with a felony on his record. If the charge sticks, he could face seven years in prison.

The arrest of Cox reflects a new crime-fighting strategy in Kansas City, and possibly provides one explanation for a welcome drop in homicides so far this year. At the close of April, the city had logged 21 homicides in 2014. Last year at this time 32 persons had died violently. In 2012 the body count was 38.

City leaders are hesitant to even speak of the drop, for good reason. A bloody weekend or even a violent summer night could drive the numbers up quickly. Just to prove that point, two women died violently in separate incidents last week, bringing the total number of homicides in April to six.

Still, there is cautious optimism about enhanced cooperation among local and federal law enforcement agencies and a more aggressive stance toward individuals who, like Cox, are believed to be associated with violence.

That’s the premise of the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, an initiative involving local and federal law enforcement. It has identified “circles” of people who are believed to be at risk of either being involved with a murder or becoming a victim.

People in the circles are invited to take advantage of opportunities to get jobs, education and other services. But they’re also warned that — should they be identified with criminal activity — the authorities will crack down hard.

After two young men were slain in a hail of gunfire on the East Side in January, federal agents moved in and arrested 18 persons on narcotics and related charges. Those arrested allegedly were associated with a gang believed to be connected to the homicide.

“They were met by SWAT teams at the doors,” Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, told about 45 persons in the at-risk networks who attended a “call in” at an East Side church. “The violence in Kansas City is going to stop and we will take down anybody associated with it.”

Kansas City Mayor Sly James has long decried what he calls “slow-motion mass murder,” with most of the victims being black men in the urban core. But recently he’s been fine-tuning another message.

“How are we going to start telling people that this is not a crime-ridden city?” he asked during last month’s meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners. “It is not as dangerous as it’s portrayed to be.”

While murders and violent crimes can and do take place in isolated incidents throughout sprawling Kansas City, the preponderance of homicides occur in a swath of the urban core.

That leaves city leaders with a dual task: assuring residents and visitors the city is safe, while acting with urgency to stop the killings on the East Side.

In an interview, James said he thinks the city may be making progress with the second part of that equation.

“It seems to me, feels to me — and maybe it’s because I’m looking for it — that we’re turning some corners,” he said.

But there is still much work to be done.

Of the six homicides in April, the death of 34-year-old Ka’Vyea Curry received the most attention. The man who fired eight bullets at Curry as he sat in a car in a gas station parking lot also critically wounded the victim’s 10-year-old son and endangered a 5-year-old child.

Using video from the gas station and good detective work, police arrested Dontae D. Jefferson, 27, for the shootings. But the lack of tips is discouraging. Multiple persons at the gas station scattered when the shooting occurred. Despite community outrage over an audacious crime involving children, police heard from few witnesses.

The April homicide victims included two women. Tina Castro, 40, was shot last Tuesday while sitting in a car, reportedly as a result of two teenagers in the back seat handling guns carelessly. They have been charged in juvenile court with involuntary manslaughter.

Michelle Boldrige, 31, was found murdered Wednesday in a Northland apartment.

Two young men, Alonzo Thomas IV, 20, and Javonte Slayden, 18, were shot outside houses on the East Side. Slayden had told friends he was afraid, and even revealed the name of the man now accused of murdering him, 22-year-old Deandre Whitley. No one has been charged with Thomas’ murder.

The sixth victim, 38-year-old William Nelson, was stabbed to death in what police said appeared to be a fight over a woman.

These are six senseless deaths, some prompted by dangerous associations and lifestyles and at least one the result of the ridiculously casual presence of guns. The lower murder count so far this year is good news, but stepped up efforts and enforcement are crucial as warmer weather arrives.

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