KC’s high crime rates should lead to Police Department overhaul

05/29/2013 6:20 PM

06/01/2013 6:03 PM

Kansas City’s violent crime and murder rates are among the nation’s highest and have been for many years.

That’s a big black mark against keeping state control of the Police Department, as some in the business community contend is best.

Crime statistics need to be a big part of the conversation as a commission appointed by Mayor Sly James recommends this fall whether to try to gain local control of the department in 2014 from Jefferson City.

At a commission meeting earlier this month, members reviewed a “peer cities summary” prepared by the city staff. It compared Kansas City’s police staffing and police budget with those for 10 other peer cities: Denver, Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, Omaha, St. Louis and Tulsa.

Two discouraging numbers stood out.

Kansas City had the second highest cost for its Police Department per 1,000 residents. And the city had the third highest number of uniformed and civilian employees per 1,000 residents.

But one commission member brought up a salient point which went unanswered that day: Shouldn’t crime numbers be part of any comparison?

They should. Here is where Kansas City stood when using the latest available national crime data from 2011.

• Kansas City had the 10th highest rate of violent crime of 72 U.S. cities with more than 250,000 people. Of Kansas City’s 10 Midwestern peers, only St. Louis and Memphis had worse rates of violent crime.

• Kansas City’s murder rate was seventh highest of the 72 large cities and second highest (behind only St. Louis) of its Midwestern peers.

• Kansas City’s aggravated assault rate was eighth highest of the large cities and third highest (behind St. Louis and Memphis) of its Midwestern peers.

• And the city’s property crime rate was 12th highest of the large cities and fifth highest of its Midwestern peers.

These depressing figures indicate supporters of state control have very few facts on their side when it comes to arguing that the current arrangement does much to keep crime low in Kansas City.

Boosters of local control logically point out a change could lead to more innovative approaches to battling crime. Elected officials and the entire City Hall staff must have more responsibility and accountability for reducing crime in the future.

So how much should this discouraging data matter?

On a national scale, it’s embarrassing that Kansas City is lumped in with other cities that have gained notoriety for their high crime rates, such as Detroit, St. Louis, Oakland, Memphis, Atlanta, Cleveland and Buffalo.

On a local basis, Kansas City is always competing with nearby cities for jobs and residents. So when the suburbs can crow about lower crime, they will.

Using 2011 statistics, Kansas City’s violent crime rate was almost double the rate in Kansas City, Kan., triple the rate in Independence and seven times higher than the rates in Overland Park and Olathe.

These crime figures — and some of the budget numbers in the “peer cities summary” — provide more evidence that it’s time for local control of a department that spends $209 million of public funds a year.

That’s what St. Louis residents finally demanded. Thanks to a statewide petition and vote in 2012, St. Louis will gain control of its police agency this September. As many of the numbers posted here show, St. Louis is even worse off than Kansas City when it comes to crime.

Kansas City soon will become the only U.S. city without local control of its police agency. The commission appointed by James needs to provide a road map for changing that fact and getting rid of state control.

Looking at the crime numbers, there’s little reason to keep the status quo.


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