Kansas City has earned a dire designation.
Our crime rate is on an unrelenting upward trajectory. And Kansas City’s violence now stands out among American cities, far outpacing the national average. That has put us on federal officials’ radar screen and has compelled them to step in to help.
Kansas City is one of 12 metropolitan areas named in the first round of a new U.S. Department of Justice effort to stem crime. The National Public Safety Partnership is an outgrowth of President Donald Trump’s executive order to reduce violent crime.
So far, details are scant. But any assistance in combating violent crime is welcome.
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Through June 20 this year, homicides have claimed 66 lives here. Too many days bring more news of brutal slayings in our city.
A release detailing goals of the new partnership underscored this truth: “Spikes in violent crime are driven by unique local factors.”
In Kansas City, many underlying factors have been well documented. Historical patterns of racial segregation, a school district that has struggled to meet academic standards and a lack of economic development and jobs in the urban core are all intertwined with crime rates.
Fortunately, the Department of Justice aims to help cities “build up their own capacity to fight crime, by making use of data-driven, evidence-based strategies.”
That emphasis should align well with the existing Kansas City No Violence Alliance, or NoVA, which targets the small percentage of people committing the most violent crimes and their associates. Tracking those violent offenders is a large part of NoVA.
As a result of NoVA and several other efforts, Kansas City has many people who are engaged in reducing crime. They understand what has worked here and what strategies have proved ineffective. Efforts that merely attempt to stamp out crime by force but that fail to address social factors will fail.
Murder by murder, Kansas City is on track to match the record high rates of the early 1990s. Back then, the introduction of crack cocaine into the city and the rise of the gangs that sold the drug fueled a violent crime explosion.
This time, no single overriding cause is evident, no new drug or gang to blame for the escalating violence.
Unraveling the tangle of issues that’s sparked this sharp increase in violent crime will be a challenge. Federal authorities can assist. But it’s also important that they seek guidance from those who understand the city: the police, prosecutors and activists who know the neighborhoods plagued by deadly violence.
In partnership, they could make inroads in reducing crime in Kansas City.