New effort aims to reduce violent crime in Kansas City. Will this one move the needle?

If you witness a crime, here’s what to do

Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.
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Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.

It’s the talk of the town, the scourge of the city and inarguably the incoming mayor’s most daunting challenge: reducing violent crime in Kansas City.

Fortuitously for Mayor-elect Quinton Lucas, who takes the reins of city government Thursday, a new, comprehensive anti-crime effort called KC Common Good is taking shape here.

Until now, KC Common Good, which is an initiative of American Public Square, has been a goodhearted community convener. But it’s being transformed into a more insistent community mobilizer, with the ambitious aim of attacking the issues that underlie our crime problem with greater force and focus, including poverty, affordable housing, education, health care, spirituality, jobs and job training.

Currently building a bistate, multi-community, public-private coalition, and set to hire an executive director by next month, KC Common Good plans to reveal its new assertive self after the first of the year — starting with an online platform, KCCommonGood.org, that brings together problems and problem solvers in one portal to raise awareness of community resources and get them to those who need them.

KC Common Good’s driving force is retired JE Dunn Construction CEO Terry Dunn, who’s been joined by a growing cadre of supporters in applying a “social entrepreneurship” model to solving the metropolitan area’s twin problems of crime and hopelessness through civic-minded capitalism.

It’s a huge risk — an untested prototype taking on a multi-headed beast. But who better to take on risk than an entrepreneur?

Bob Hill is a believer. The retired minister, who says racial reconciliation has been a big part of his life, calls KC Common Good “one of the better endeavors I’ve seen in the almost 25 years since I moved here.” Of Dunn, Hill can’t think of another local business executive who has committed to putting as much time, heart and treasure into advancing the common good: “He’s in it for the long haul. And that shows his love for Kansas City. There’s nobody doing this as thoroughly, authentically, as honestly as they’re doing.”

Pastor Cassandra Wainright of the Concerned Clergy Coalition also sees great potential in KC Common Good to bring diverse leaders together, particularly in a disparate Kansas City faith community that oddly lacks an overarching convening organization. There are awaiting armies for good throughout the community, she says, and maybe nowhere more so than in the faith community.

Wainright credits Dunn with “putting fire to the movement,” but realizes this is a marathon, not a sprint.

As any marathoner, KC Common Good will have to measure the steps toward its goals. How many community resource organizations will put their profiles on the coming portal? How many citizens will access it? Any improvements in crime rates, health indices and employment? If so, any correlation to KC Common Good?

Damon Daniel, president of Kansas City’s AdHoc Group Against Crime, is cautiously optimistic about KC Common Good’s earnest stewards and multi-sector approach that will involve not just criminal justice agencies and clergy, but also leaders in health, education, business, housing, finance, nonprofits and foundations. Still, he says, it could be a decade before the effort moves the needle discernibly on what are generational behaviors and policies.

The organization also will have to transcend geographic, political and social boundaries, as well as the deeply ingrained skepticism of an African American community well aware that these same entrenched challenges were being discussed to little avail 50 years ago.

Interestingly, Dunn and former City Councilman Alvin Brooks, a founder and past leader of the AdHoc Group Against Crime, each separately recalled their memories of the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April 1968. Brooks, who is black, remembers pleading with authorities to close schools to mark the milestone and prevent rioting. Dunn, who is white, remembers the smell of smoke in the air and the fear on the faces he saw.

Half a century later, the pressure is on to truly realize the common good and finish the job of fulfilling MLK’s dream.