Yael T. Abouhalkah

April 16, 2014

Kansas City is living down to its high-crime reputation

The recent highway shootings are among the grim reminders that Kansas City’s unacceptably high rates of violent crime and murder affect its reputation. It’s essential that leaders keep trying to reduce these rates. They are bad for businesses, bad for tourists and especially bad for residents.

The national spotlight on Kansas City has been harsh in recent days.

With 20 or so reported random shootings on the highways and a neo-Nazi charged with three senseless killings in a suburb, the city’s image as a good place to live and visit has been shaken.

Most of the roadway shootings occurred within Kansas City’s limits. And while Sunday’s murders happened in Overland Park, some major U.S. media have highlighted the fact they were in “a suburb of Kansas City, Mo.” (The New York Times), a “Kansas City suburb” (Huffington Post) or “the Kansas City area” (CNN).

This is not the kind of attention Kansas City needs, but especially not just a week before GOP officials show up to kick the tires of the city as a possible site for the 2016 Republican National Convention.

All of this is yet another grim reminder of how Kansas City’s unacceptably high rates of violent crime and murder affect its reputation and why it’s so necessary to keep trying to drive them down.

They are bad for businesses, bad for tourists and especially bad for residents.

The highway shootings feed the stereotype that it’s unsafe to be in Kansas City. Mayor Sly James gave a TV interview on the subject, which included this attempt to downplay the troubles:

“But I do not believe that you can say that what’s going on in Kansas City is of such a weird nature, such an extreme nature, that it’s any different to what’s happening in the rest of the country. It’s not.”

However, the mayor also more accurately noted, “This is an anomaly, which is why it’s national news ... because it doesn’t happen very often.”

And to James’ credit, he’s bluntly spoken at other times about the city’s violent crime problem and its effects on residents.

The mayor said in the TV interview that he didn’t think the shootings would be an issue for GOP convention planners.

Maybe not. Tens of thousands of conventioneers come to the city every year, enjoy themselves and almost none are affected by crimes that disproportionately occur in part of the urban core.

Still, some sobering facts exist when sizing up Kansas City and its five competitors for the 2016 Republican convention.

• Kansas City had the highest murder rate at 22.6 per 100,000 residents in 2012, the most recent figures available. That was fifth worst among the 50 largest U.S. cities.

The other murder rates were Cleveland (21.3), Cincinnati (15.5), Dallas (12.4), Denver (6.2) and Las Vegas (5.1).

• Kansas City had the second highest rate of violent crime at 1,263 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2012.

Cleveland topped the list with 1,384 incidents per 100,000 residents. The others were Cincinnati (975), Las Vegas (784), Dallas (675) and Denver (616).

Looking back, all recent national conventions have been held in statistically safer cities than Kansas City.

New York City in 2004, St. Paul, Minn., in 2008 and Tampa in 2012 all had lower rates of violent crime and murder in the years they hosted Republican conventions than Kansas City had in 2012.

As for Democratic conventions, Boston in 2004, Denver in 2008 and Charlotte in 2012 also had lower violent crime and homicide statistics during their host years.

Kansas City has a tremendous number of positive attributes that could help it win the GOP convention. I hope that happens.

Yet for the city’s future to be even brighter than it already is, it’s essential that city leaders find more effective ways to reduce violent crimes and homicides.

It’s great that Kansas City is a safe place for conventioneers to visit. But it would be even better to make it a safer place for people to live.

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