When 24-year-old William Verner died of a gunshot wound Sunday afternoon, it presented Kansas City with a sobering statistic: eight homicides in the first 10 days of the new year.
That hasn’t happened in Kansas City since 2005.
In the intervening years, Kansas City averaged 2.3 murders by Jan. 10. By that date in 2012, the city had none.
It’s a grim start to 2016, following a particularly deadly 2015 that saw the number of homicides reach 109 after a several-decade low of 81 in 2014.
If 2005 is any guide, things could get really bad. Kansas City ended that year with 124 homicides.
Six of the eight killings so far this year — 75 percent — involved gunfire. One woman was stabbed to death. In the case of a body found by trash collectors, officials have not released a cause of death but are treating the case as a homicide.
Police Chief Darryl Forté on Monday cautioned about seeing trends in numbers. He recalled periods of a half-dozen homicides in a single day and months when there were only two.
“Every single homicide in Missouri, in Kansas City, should create something in each of us that would make us want to get involved and make us realize that we’ve got to do better,” he said.
Forté said homicides often occur in blighted areas where streetlights don’t work and vacant buildings need to be demolished. He said resources spent addressing those kinds of problems could reduce the murder rate.
In the meantime, Forté said he was redeploying some officers to hot spots between St. John Avenue and 85th Street and Troost and Topping avenues, where he said most of the crime occurs. This was being done to increase police visibility and “identify the criminal element.”
All that will be in the air as the Citizens Task Force on Violence begins its work Tuesday. Appointed by Mayor Sly James and headed by City Councilwoman Jolie Justus, the task force will try to come up with recommendations on ways Kansas City can reduce the murder rate and the rates of other violent crimes.
The 19-member task force includes elected officials, professionals, social-service workers, clergy, educators and others, but Justus emphasized that the general public is welcome to offer testimony or make suggestions.
“We are trying to get as much citizen input as possible,” Justus said. “The subject-matter experts have worked on it and will continue to work on it, (but) the mayor wanted fresh eyes to kind of take a holistic view. Violence is really a symptom of larger societal problems. With what we’ve seen in the last week or the last 10 days of the new year, it simply underscores the importance of coming up with pragmatic solutions.”
The task force will meet from 6 to 8 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month through October in the Gregg-Klice Community Center at East 17th Terrace and the Paseo. Justus said the first meeting will be organizational and there probably won’t be time for public testimony, but residents are welcome to attend.
The public also may send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and a comment form will be set up on the city’s website, KCMO.gov. Correspondence also may be directed to Justus through her office on the 22nd floor of City Hall, 414 E. 12th St., Kansas City MO 64106.
The task force’s first meeting coincides with President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address, in which he is expected to address the subject of violence.
The task force will announce in advance of future meetings what topics it intends to cover at each session. The task force plans to complete its work and make recommendations by November.