Kansas City is not the murder capital of America. Yet.
However, it’s extremely disappointing that the city is even in the discussion of having one of the nation’s highest homicide rates.
In fact, it was the fifth worst among the 50 largest U.S. cities in 2012, according to the last full year of FBI data, trailing Oakland, Baltimore, New Orleans and Detroit.
As part of the Editorial Board’s decision to take a closer look this year at homicides in Kansas City, I reviewed what’s been happening with murders in other cities in recent decades.
The statistics are important and deserve to be highlighted. This crucial category of violent crime gets more media and public attention than any other. That’s for good reason because murders carry such high costs for victims, society, and communities trying to attract residents and businesses.
For starters, Kansas City routinely averages just over 100 homicides a year, or two a week.
But a deeper look at the figures helps shed light on another maddening situation.
While homicides have dropped precipitously in other cities that once competed for the moniker “murder capital of America” — such as Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago — that hasn’t happened in Kansas City to the same degree.
As a result, our city is creeping closer to a very unwanted No. 1 ranking.
Consider these key points:
• During the crack epidemic of the early 1990s, the number of homicides and the murder rates soared in many large cities.
Kansas City had a record 153 murders in 1993, for a rate of 35 per 100,000 residents.
Other selected cities also had all-time highs in homicides around the same time, leading to even worse murder rates per 100,000 residents in some cities: 79 in Washington, 70 in St. Louis and 60 in Detroit. The rates in Chicago (34) and New York (31) were slightly lower than Kansas City’s.
At the time, Kansas City’s murder rate actually was toward the low end even among this group of cities.
• By 2013, the number of homicides and the murder rates had declined drastically in all of these cities.
However, every other city did better than Kansas City in reducing their total murders.
In Kansas City, the number had fallen 37 percent from the record high two decades before.
But murders had plummeted over the same rough time period by 85 percent in New York, 78 percent in Washington, 55 percent in St. Louis, 46 percent in Detroit and 45 percent in Chicago.
For example, Washington suffered 482 murders in 1990 and only 104 in 2013. New York City had 2,245 in 1990 and only 333 last year.
• By 2013, all other cities except Detroit had fared better in proportionately trimming their murder rates, taking into account population changes (such as the loss of residents in Detroit and gains in cities such as Kansas City and New York).
Kansas City’s murder rate of almost 23 per 100,000 residents was much closer to the worst end of the scale than it had been even during the bloody 1993.
That’s because the rates had declined so much in these other cities — to 4 in New York City, 15 in Chicago, 16 in Washington, D.C., 38 in St. Louis and 47 in Detroit.
The possible reasons for why this has occurred — and why Kansas Citians haven’t enjoyed the improvements seen in other cities — deserve much more investigation and attention.
It’s critical initially to at least understand the dismaying and longstanding extent of the murder problem in Kansas City.