The unluckiest man in Kansas City picked the wrong place to seek refuge after getting away from a police traffic stop Tuesday morning.
He sped to a house in the 100 block of South White Avenue that was being watched by other officers preparing to raid it.
When officers pounced as scheduled, the driver got caught up in Operation Ice Melt, an enforcement sweep by the Kansas City No Violence Alliance targeting what authorities described as one of the city’s most violent criminal groups.
The daylong operation was conducted by dozens of police officers and federal agents with arrest warrants for about 40 members of the group, which officials said has been responsible for “multiple homicides” as well as numerous aggravated assaults, robberies and other crimes.
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Officials said 54 people were arrested Tuesday on city and state charges. Of those, 39 were arrested on warrants and 15 new charges were filed, including the driver at the White Avenue address, who was charged with felony eluding.
In addition, six firearms were recovered, along with drugs and a “large amount” of stolen property.
Authorities had warned group members that continuing to engage in violent crime would prompt “swift and certain” police action against the entire group, said Police Maj. Joe McHale, project manager for KC NoVa.
“They were given a very clear message,” McHale said. “We know who they are and we know who their friends are.”
The year-end sweep capped months of planning and intelligence gathering through KC NoVa, a collaborative effort begun in the summer of 2012 to reduce violent crime, particularly homicides.
KC NoVa employs a strategy known as focused deterrence that has proved successful in other cities. It appears to be paying dividends in Kansas City, where the homicide total so far in 2014 is the lowest in decades.
At the core of the effort is the work of University of Missouri-Kansas City professors who use police information and sophisticated social mapping software to identify connections between individuals involved in criminal activity.
Police and prosecutors then focus on the most active and violent members, who tend to be responsible for the majority of violent crimes.
Those on the periphery of the groups are also targeted, but they are offered access to social services, such as job training and placement, drug counseling, housing, transportation and child care.
About 140 people have accepted offers of help, McHale said.
KC NoVa has identified 66 groups and about 900 individuals, some of whom are gang members, who are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the city’s violent crime, he said.
Tuesday’s operation was the second for KC NoVa, but the first to focus on one specific group. Officials have identified about 80 members of the group, including one who was the recent victim of a homicide, McHale said.
The house on White Avenue was one of the first targets for Tuesday’s operation. Officers Anthony Watt and Chad Pfaff, who were part of the arrest team assigned to the house, said they had information that six of those being sought may be at the house.
Many of those people had been associated with another house where officers arrested an aggravated-assault suspect several weeks ago. Afterward, city codes enforcement officers ordered that house boarded up as uninhabitable, Watt said.
Nine other properties were closed Tuesday by the Jackson County Drug Abatement Response Team because of numerous code violations.
As the arrest teams gathered before proceeding to the house on White around 9 a.m. Tuesday, an undercover officer watching the residence came on the radio and said a black Saab “going 100 miles an hour” had just sped down the street and pulled into the home’s driveway.
As some residents came out to talk to the driver, others started to leave. The arrest teams swooped in.
When Watt and Pfaff neared the area, they spotted a man walking away from the house in the middle of the street. After they got out to talk to him, he implored, “I had nothing to do with that.”
After checking to make sure he wasn’t wanted, they let him go.
Of about 12 people inside the target house, officers arrested six of them, including the driver of the Saab.
As part of the operation, officers handed out cards to those not arrested, explaining that group members had failed to heed the warning to stop the violence.
“Today’s special enforcement attention is the direct result of the violence,” the cards read.
KC NoVa officials want it to send a message to other groups, said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.
“This doesn’t end today,” she said. “We’re not going away.”