Editorials

Murders are down in KC this year. Should we feel any safer?

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Don't expect a 25-year veteran of policing to be moved by a slight shift in crime statistics.

Major Tye Grant has seen it all.

He was a rookie officer when Kansas City saw astoundingly high murder rates in the mid-90s as crack cocaine first hit the streets. And he knows the intricacies of how street-corner drug deals have been supplanted by exchanges set up through social media.

Grant heads up the violent crimes division of the Kansas City Police Department.

So yes, Grant well knows that compared to this time last year, Kansas City's murder rate is lower. If — make that a big if — current trends continue, the city might see fewer than the 150 homicides of 2017.

So far in 2018, there have been 50 murders, compared to 63 on the same date in 2017.

And cases of what police term bullet-to-skin, or non-lethal gunshot wounds, are also down. There were 225 such incidents as of June 10, 2017, compared to 191 this year on the same date.

So Kansas City could be in line with a new Brennan Center for Justice report that found overall lower violent crime rates in the 30 largest U.S. cities.

Reporters often call with such statistics, expecting police to explain what it all means. Grant is happy to oblige, to a point.

He’s also adamant that statistics alone are not the only measure of a city’s safety, or of residents' commitment to maintaining the peace.

"Rather than being reactive and looking at the police department, what are we doing as a community to stop these things?" Grant said.

He's honestly asking.

Grant doesn't know how to force the dramatic shift necessary in community attitudes.

"The police aren't the ones who are going to fix this," he said.

Police-community cooperation is a two-way street.

Police need to be held accountable for policies and practices that erode trust within the community.

But some people don't trust police mainly because they are involved in illegal activity or are willing to shield others who are.

Crimes don't happen in a vacuum. At least one other person, often a family member or an associate, knows something about virtually every crime that is committed in Kansas City.

Without their help, crimes remain unsolved and are not prosecuted. Criminals are emboldened to commit more violence.

Let's start holding criminals as responsible as we do as police for crime statistics.

This shouldn't be a novel concept.

And it's not a plea that Grant uses to dodge the role police must play in building relationships with the community or bolstering their commitment to crime-prevention measures.

He simply knows that crime rates will never be maintained at lower levels without a shift in community attitude.

Somehow, Kansas City must develop a new standard. We must find ways to empower the reluctant to come forward, letting them know that they will be protected and respected for their cooperation.

"We know which individuals in the Kansas City area are involved in violent crime," Grant said. "But there is a difference between knowing that and being able to put it in a neat package of evidence and prosecute them successfully. The difference there is cooperation from the community."

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