Was 2014 a blip on a screen or the year Kansas City got serious about stopping murders?
Time will tell, but chances are it’s the latter. Systems are now in place that should allow the city to make more headway in reducing its homicide numbers, which as recently as 2013 had equaled or exceeded 100 and landed Kansas City high on the list of most violent cities.
Last year saw either 76 or 77 murders, pending a ruling on a man found dead Wednesday in an East Side apartment.
Much has been written about the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, a promising collaborative effort among police, prosecutors and others to identify the people most likely to commit violent crimes. Those individuals are offered resources to choose a non-criminal lifestyle. Should they decline, they are likely to be closely watched by police and held to account for even minor transgressions.
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Apart from that high-profile effort, other steps are making a difference.
Some seem small, but they are significant. Police now use cars with tinted windows at homicide scenes, so witnesses don’t have to worry about people seeing them talking to police.
Relations between homicide detectives and Jackson County prosecutors are at their highest point in years. A prosecutor reports to nearly every homicide scene. Detectives, their commanders and prosecutors convene regularly to share information about cases and discuss how to assist one another.
Significantly, police and prosecutors say they are getting more help from citizens. “People are coming forward,” said Police Capt. David Lindaman of the homicide unit.
That’s partly because of efforts by Police Chief Darryl Forté and others to build relationships with citizens. But work in the prosecutors office is helping too.
Prosecutors were more likely to charge suspects with firearms violations in 2014. Many times, that meant a homicide suspect was jailed in the crucial period when detectives were seeking information in the community about a murder, giving witnesses a measure of confidence.
Fewer murders meant more time to work on cases. Police cleared almost six of every 10 homicides, meaning they presented information to the prosecutor’s office for a determination of whether charges could be filed. Police are listing an additional seven cases as “solved,” indicated they believe they know what happened but don’t have sufficient evidence for charges.
An encouraging statistic comes from the prosecutor’s office, which charged more than twice as many defendants with first-degree murder in 2014 than in 2013. That indicates citizen cooperation is producing stronger evidence to charge suspects at a higher level.
Kansas City joins other cities troubled by violence, like Chicago and Philadelphia, in recording significantly murder numbers in 2014. St. Louis is one of the cities that continues to struggle; it recorded a shocking 159 homicides last year.
Still, gun violence in Kansas City remained a huge problem in 2014. Preliminary numbers recorded more than 930 non-fatal shootings. While lower than in many years, that actually represents a small increase over 2013.
Too many people in Kansas City are armed and prone to use their weapons to settle arguments. Year after year, more murders are the result of impromptu conflicts than any other known motive.
The year 2014 ended with at least seven homicides in December.
Michael Taylor, 22, walked up to a car in the 3300 block of College Avenue on Dec. 1 and was abruptly shot by a man inside. Mark Looney is charged in his death.
In a horrifying incident on Dec. 4, 15-year-old Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein, a beloved youth in Kansas City’s Somali community, was killed when someone intentionally rammed him with a SUV as he was getting into a car. Ahmed Aden, another Somali refugee, is charged with the murder.
Benjamin James, 33, was shot inside an East Side home on Dec. 12.
David Mostaffa, 57, was killed Dec. 20 when a disgruntled customer returned to a bar and began firing from the back door. Ronald Vaughan is charged with Mostaffa’s death.
Friends rushed Brandon Moore, 25, to a hospital on Dec. 27 after he and another man were shot inside a car. Roger Chandler, 57, was killed during a disturbance that same day.
And Nicholas Preuitt, 27, was murdered in a downtown parking garage when an argument broke out as cars were leaving the building after a night of revelry.
Like the 69 people killed violently in the first 11 months of 2014, these latest victims are more than grim numbers. They are lives lost to their families, friends and communities. While it’s good news that fewer murders took place in Kansas City in 2014, the roster of victims remains staggering and sad, and provides inspiration to do better in 2015.