Kansas City Mayor Sly James hugged Deena Noll before asking her about neighborhood watch efforts in her area.
The mayor was knocking on doors Wednesday evening to talk to residents of south Kansas City after an hourlong panel featuring state and local politicians, Kansas City Police Department brass and the South Kansas City Alliance.
Wednesday night’s event was the first of three that the Kansas City Police Department has planned to prevent crime and engage citizens in neighborhoods across the city. The next two will be held in midtown/east Kansas City and Kansas City, North. Dates and exact locations have not been announced.
The panel, which was held at Evangel Church, 1414 E. 103rd St., was dominated by questions about murders on the trail systems in the area.
Debbie Smith wiped tears from her eyes as she asked about a video of a possible witness to Mike Darby’s death. The man in the video was not a suspect in the slaying, police said Tuesday. Smith has worked at Coach’s Bar & Grill, which Darby co-owned, for 32 years.
Deputy Chief Cheryl Rose, who is overseeing the investigation into the killings, said she was not aware of any tips related to the video, but police were hopeful the person would see the video and contact police.
Darby’s death was “like losing a family member to me,” Smith said after the panel. “At least that’s what it feels like.”
Darby was one of four white men between the ages of 54 and 66 murdered on or near Indian Creek and Blue River trails since August. Police have said the murders have “obvious similarities.”
In response to other questions about the deaths, Interim Police Chief David Zimmerman said the department is working to add surveillance cameras around the trail and acquire utility task vehicles, which can carry multiple police along the trail, in contrast to the single-rider, all-terrain vehicles police currently use.
Between questions about the trail slayings, Zimmerman responded to questions about a police system to identify the source of gunshots called ShotSpotter, concerns about the potential for access to gun silencers and requests for police involvement in a community-organized anti-crime event.
After the panel wrapped up, James arrived to knock on doors and speak to Kansas Citians living along 102nd Terrace and Belmont Avenue. He was followed by members of the Indian Heights Homeowners Association, police officers and the church’s outreach pastor, Chris Buford.
The mayor said he did not hear about fear regarding the trail slayings from residents of the homes he visited.
Carol Cutler, a board member of the neighborhood association, said, “Tons of neighbors are concerned” about the killings. Cutler said she was confident in police efforts to respond to the killings.
Federal authorities last week named Kansas City as one of 12 cities that will receive federal help and services as part of a national effort to combat violent crime.
This year has been particularly brutal in Kansas City, with 66 homicides through June 20, on pace for 140 in 2017. That would be the most homicides in the city since the early 1990s, when the number of murders eclipsed 150.
“Everyone’s afraid to get out and walk around,” said Debbie Lambert, another board member of the neighborhood association. Of the event, she said: “This is what we really, really super needed.”
Shane Sanderson: 816-234-4440, @shanersanderson