Kansas City moves in the right direction on murder, gunshot numbers

07/01/2014 6:26 PM

07/01/2014 7:13 PM

Despite a fatal shooting near 45th Street and the Paseo on Monday night, Kansas City closed out June with good reasons to be encouraged that efforts to abate violent crimes may be showing results.

Five persons were murdered in June, bringing the total homicide count this year to 34. Though that number represents tragedies for many families and for the community, it is significantly lower than what Kansas City has experienced in recent years.

At this point last year, police had recorded 49 homicides. In each of the three years prior, the numbers stood at 47 or 48. Kansas City finished each of the last four years with 100-plus homicides and the intolerable distinction of being one of the nation’s most deadly cities.

Of the 34 homicides so far this year, suspects have been charged in 14 cases, and seven additional cases have been submitted to the prosecutor’s office. Police are listing eight other cases as “solved but not cleared,” meaning suspects have been identified but criminal charges have not been filed, possibly because of self-defense issues or a failure to meet the prosecution’s burden of proof.

Put together, those numbers indicate that police have been successful in identifying suspects in most of this year’s homicides. That’s an essential prevention tool.

Law enforcement agencies here have become more aggressive about tracking violent individuals. If a case isn’t strong enough to justify murder charges, perhaps because witnesses won’t cooperate, authorities will look for other reasons to put a suspect behind bars. In one case, a suspect was arrested and charged with illegally possessing a handgun with a felony on his record.

Fewer homicides allow detectives more time to solve murders. And solved murders prevent future homicides. It’s a cycle that Kansas City wants to accelerate.

Police recorded 439 aggravated assaults with firearms — meaning people were shot at — in the first six months of this year. While that seems startlingly high at an average of 2.4 shootings a day, it’s actually the lowest number in a six-month period since 2008.

Reducing gun violence is crucial to getting Kansas City out of the top of the high-crime rankings. Of the 106 homicides recorded in 2013, all but 16 of the victims were shot.

Shootings that don’t result in fatalities still take huge tolls in emotional and medical costs. They are the form of violence most likely to involve children, bystanders and other innocent persons.

Unfortunately, Missouri laws make it all too easy for anyone to obtain a firearm. But the new focus on cracking down on the people most likely to use them to harm others offers hope that aggravated assaults may drop along with murders.

“Using intelligence to get ahead of violence is huge,” said police Capt. Joe McHale, who is working with the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, a collaborative effort of local and federal police and prosecutors. The alliance, along with new ways of deploying police resources, is one of the efforts that may be having results.

Police have released few details on the five murders that took place in June.

Johnathan D. Olivares, 26, was found stabbed to death June 2 at a south Kansas City apartment complex, apparently after being involved in a fight. The next day, Freddie Releford, 55, was shot in an alley near 42nd Street and Brooklyn Avenue.

And one day after that, on June 4, the body of Shaunda L. Thomas, 35, the mother of four sons, was found near a playground in east Kansas City.

Brandon Dean, 21, was shot to death near 39th Street and Indiana Ave. on June 22. His uncle had been killed by gunfire in Kansas City six months earlier.

As of Tuesday evening, police had not released the identify of the person murdered Monday night.

Over the past few years both shootings and homicides have accelerated in the second half of the year. It would be a great feat to reverse that trend in 2014.

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