Special courts could be key in fighting street gun culture

03/23/2014 11:42 PM

03/23/2014 11:42 PM

The term “street gun culture” needs little explaining.

Kansas City hears its repercussions amplified every night on the TV news. Worse, citizens of the urban core suffer its consequences daily.

But could it be deflated if using a gun in a crime like robbery drew swift and consistent consequences? Outcomes like cash-only bonds of at least $25,000 and expedited cases, heard by a specific judge?

Those are some ideas behind a proposal to give some violent crimes committed with a gun a hyper-focus. An “armed offender docket” is among recommendations announced Friday, an outcome of September’s Urban Crime Summit. The summit was held in Kansas City and St. Louis, but the docket was discussed after the sessions moved across the state.

From the transcript, St. Louis circuit court attorney Jennifer Joyce:

“We need an armed offender docket because St. Louis is awash with illegal guns. We have a street gun culture that runs deep through our neighborhoods and people, particularly young people, are dying at a rapid and completely unacceptable rate.”

She could have easily been talking about Kansas City.

The glorification of guns among African-American young men is a problem in every major city. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, Police Chief Darryl Forté and Mayor Sly James were present at this portion of the summit in St. Louis. All offered support for the concepts behind the proposal.

James pointed out that in Kansas City, such specialty courts are under the municipal court system, handling drug and mental health issues. And he observed that it might take time to convince circuit-level judges of the viability of such an approach.

Last fall, circuit court judges in St. Louis voted down a similar proposal down. The backlash in part was because judges were angered at the criticism that it takes the courts too long to hear cases and that the resulting sentencing is too light.

Think of this as “reforms” to the judicial system that can be tracked for outcomes, adjusted if necessary, Baker said. She also noted that the docket shouldn’t be perceived as a treatment, or a get-tough-and-throw-away-the-key court.

Rather, it would be a way to concentrate resources on the people who will likely cause a lot of future violence in our cities.

“And we’re all paying the price for that,” she said.

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