Overland Park police led a town-hall style meeting Thursday night for residents in the area of 79th Street and Grant Avenue to address recent violent crime and an uptick of drug activity involving teens.
More than 80 citizens and some public officials heard updates from police on a stabbing and two recent shootings, including one that left a 17-year-old dead. The three incidents, deemed isolated cases by police, happened in a 10-day period.
While the three cases remain under investigation, Overland Park Police Capt. Jim Sutterby told the crowd two people have been charged and an arrest warrant issued for a third suspect in the case where Ben Workman-Greco, 17, was fatally shot in his apartment. The killing happened in the 8000 block of Farley Street on Jan. 23.
Then on Jan. 29, police said a 16-year-old boy was shot multiple times and found lying in the street at near 79th and Farley. Sutterby said that two people have been charged in the case.
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Lastly, police said no suspect information was available in the case where a teenage victim was stabbed Feb. 1 at the Village View Apartments in the 7800 block of Grant Lane. Police said the victim was not cooperating with police.
For part of the night, police also shared with the crowd information on drug activity in the city. Police said they’ve seen an increase of “vapes” and marijuana sold among juveniles and sent in the mail.
Police Chief Frank Donchez Jr. said officers are taking steps to deter violence and other crime in the area and called on residents to help report suspicious activity and watch over the community as the chief pointed to a staffing shortage. He said the police department is authorized to have 255 officers but is “down 6, 7 percent on staffing” due to vacancies.
The police chief and other officers also implored parents to become more familiar with their child’s activity on social media.
“What I think is important is to know your neighbors, know your neighborhoods, and for parents, because there’s a juvenile component to all of these cases as well on both the victim and suspect side ... know what your kids are doing, know who your kids are hanging out with and who their friends are, and if possible, monitor their social media,” Donchez said.
Police said they’ve kicked off a law enforcement initiative targeting 79th and Grant — a one-square-mile area home to about 6,000 residents, police estimated.
Since Jan. 29, police said they’ve made 21 arrests and issued 41 citations in the 79th and Grant area.
Police said they’re taking a more aggressive approach to vehicle stops and increased patrols to make themselves more visible in the community. Police also said they would switch to a “black and white police car theme” to make them stand out.
Police also plan on getting officers out walking or on bicycles through the neighborhoods, apartment communities and schools when the weather warms up.
Taking questions for about an hour, police received a variety of feedback from residents.
A grandmother of one of the shooting victims shared frustration in the criminal court system. Patti Wehner said her teenage grandson was shot point blank and thrown from a moving vehicle in sub-freezing temperatures on the night of Jan. 29. Two suspects taken into custody following the shooting have since posted bond, she said.
“They were released on bond within 48 hours with nothing more than an aggravated assault charge,” Wehner said. “I think this is a huge part of the problem, don’t you?”
Chief Donchez said he understood her frustration.
“But we have our job to do and we do it, so yes, we do work with it, and the district attorney’s office has been great,” Donchez said. “I think the frustration is that there’s a lot going on and not so much resources when it comes to either keeping people in jail or getting the bail.”
Some applauded the police department’s efforts throughout the night, thought a couple of people said they were still left wondering how they could make their concerns heard by police.
“You say you’re here to listen and you depend on those 911 calls to take action, you can read all over Nextdoor and in this community that we do call things in,” said Morgan Moriarty. “We get dismissed as a community when we’re bringing these things to you, so what do we need to be doing differently?”
Donchez told those residents they should call him or ask to speak to a watch commander on duty.
“It bothers me to hear that because I don’t necessarily think that’s the case, but I want to investigate case-by-case,” he said.
A few residents expressed a need for more mental health services, particularly for children. Others asked how they could get information from police about incidents reported in their area.
Donchez said any Overland Park resident who needs to talk to police about a non-emergent matter is encouraged to call police at 913-895-6300.