Editorials

KC NoVa failed to reduce homicides. This new strategy could make Kansas City safer

KC NoVa crimefighting program had ‘no effects’ feds say

After five years, local law enforcement in Kansas City is moving on from the Kansas City No Violence Alliance effort, which was meant to help stop homicides. The city has continued to suffer from a high homicide rate.
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After five years, local law enforcement in Kansas City is moving on from the Kansas City No Violence Alliance effort, which was meant to help stop homicides. The city has continued to suffer from a high homicide rate.

Area law enforcement officials have announced an effort aimed at turning the crime-fighting collaboration KC NoVa into a new-and-improved initiative by applying broader, more intense heat to Kansas City’s violent criminals.

It’s a welcome development. The Kansas City No Violence Alliance of local, state and federal criminal justice agencies took credit for a decided decline in homicides following its mobilization in 2014 — from 100 in 2013 to 82 in KC NoVa’s inaugural year. In addition, group-associated violence, the primary target of NoVa, has declined from 64% of homicides to 37% of them.

But total homicides have spiked — to 151 in 2017 and 135 last year. There have been about 60 homicides so far this year, indicating the tragic trend continues unabated.

What’s new from the KC NoVa team — which includes the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Kansas City Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI — is an increased focus on the most dangerous individuals involved in gun crimes.

In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice’s “Project Safe Neighborhoods” anti-crime program, KC NoVa is expected to ramp up efforts to funnel the city’s worst gun offenders into the federal system, where offenders can get a quick 15 years and up.

Officials aren’t sure why KC NoVa didn’t move the needle on homicides after the first year. And, in retrospect, climbing homicide rates in the intervening years cast doubt on whether NoVa was responsible for even that brief respite.

Too many factors affect violent crime fluctuations to know for sure. But it clearly would have been the oft-repeated definition of insanity to keep doing the same things and expect different results. Thus, the KC NoVa reboot — and an increased reliance on putting the federal hammer down on gun crimes in Kansas City.

No one can point to any shortage of effort or motivation on the part of KC NoVa officials — and especially the men and women of area law enforcement — to make Kansas City safer. The tactics just needed to change. Desperately.

“The result is this new enforcement strategy that targets the trigger pullers,” Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith said.

U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said that the federal system can offer inveterate gunmen more cell space and prison time than the state can.

Indeed, prodigious catch-and-release arrests won’t be enough. Violent offenders must be a priority, not just in law enforcement and prosecutors’ offices, but in courtrooms as well. Those who wield guns to seek dominion over streets and neighborhoods can no longer be given quarter. Theirs is a caustic pollutant ruining lives, despoiling neighborhoods and eating away at this city’s esteem and image.

It says something good that, although the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office reports an annual average of 114 homicides in the city since 1968, that no longer is tolerable. Ironically, one criminal justice official said KC NoVa might have not only raised awareness of homicide, but also lowered acceptance of it. More likely, the city core’s renaissance and an elevated social consciousness should be credited.

Either way, this is a promising and much-needed change in strategy. Those implementing it deserve support and need to know the community has their backs.

At the same time, while they apply renewed heat to the irredeemable among us, they must surely understand why a beleaguered community will do the same to them.

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