The who, why and how behind murders in KC

05/16/2014 10:34 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

The murder of Javonte Slayden on April 6 in the 4900 block of Agnes Avenue illustrated the similarities of many homicides in Kansas City.

Slayden, 18, was a young black male. So is the charged suspect, Deandre Whitley, 22.

The murder was preceded by a dispute. And Slayden was killed by a gun.

The Star last week reviewed Police Department data from 2009 through Thursday, covering 572 homicides. The depressing average homicide rate has been 109 annually from 2009 through 2013.

Some of the other statistics:

84 percent of homicides were committed with guns. The next highest: 5 percent by stabbing.

82 percent of the victims were male.

75 percent of the victims were black; 75 percent of known suspects also were black. (City’s black population was 30 percent in the 2010 census.)

40 percent of homicides with known causes were linked to an argument.

35 percent of victims were ages 17 to 24. Plus, 40 percent of known suspects were in the same age range. Both were the highest rates among five age divisions measured by the Police Department.

18 percent of the victims were white; 20 percent of known suspects were white. (City’s white population was 59 percent in 2010.)

7 percent of the victims were Hispanic; 5 percent of known suspects were Hispanic. (City’s Hispanic population was 10 percent in 2010.)

Some of these statistics back up perceptions that people have about murder in the city. Reducing the homicide rate is essential for the health of black neighborhoods and for the futures of the young black men who reside in and near the urban core.

To a degree, these numbers also show that large parts of the local population are not at risk of being homicide victims.

In that sense, they bear out observations made by Mayor Sly James and others, that most homicides and other violent crimes occur within 10 percent of the city’s 320 square miles.

The Star’s review also showed a few outliers.

In 2011, 10 percent of homicide victims were white males but the figure rose to 20 percent in 2013.

Black male murder victims fell from 66 percent of the total in 2011 to 59 percent in 2013.

White females, who make up about 30 percent of the city’s population, were only 6 percent of the murder victims in that three-year stretch.

While the sample size is still small, the 2014 homicide rate so far has fallen below the rate of the previous decade.

The recent statistics suggest that Kansas City officials are going in the right direction trying to reduce the city’s murder rate, which was fifth highest of large U.S. cities in 2012.

With hotspot policing and innovative programs such as the KC No Violence Alliance (NOVA), the police, the Jackson County prosecutor’s office, social assistance groups and others are focusing on protecting urban core neighborhood residents from violence.

They are reaching out to current criminals as well as their friends, trying to link them to educational and job opportunities while holding out the threat of tougher enforcement.

Still, more progress is needed.

NOVA deserves continued support from its partners. Along the way, the program should be adjusted to account for unforeseen problems.

City Council members must take the homicide problem more seriously than they have. That will be essential when it comes to deciding how to finance the Police Department and other crime fighting initiatives.

Given the overwhelming number of murders caused by guns, James and others must keep pushing for the ability to pass stricter laws that include universal background checks, a limitation on firearms in cars and mandatory reporting of stolen weapons.

The numbers pull no punches: Kansas City still has a murder problem. It’s concentrated in certain parts of the city. And it involves a relatively small part of the population.

Those last two factors in particular should assist city leaders focus on finding the best ways to reduce homicides.


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