Kansas City’s rising murder numbers were sounding alarms even before eight persons, including two children, were killed by gunfire over the last seven days.
But this spate of violence, adding to a homicide count that is 20 percent higher than it was at this time last year, doesn’t mean the prevention strategies put in place over the last few years are failing.
In fact, officials say, the number of killings that appear to be related to group, or gang, violence is down from last year.
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For three years, police, prosecutors and other partners have focused on identifying and deterring the people most likely to commit violent crimes and others in their “circles.” Those efforts, which are directed through the Kansas City No Violence Alliance project, have earned a sustained commitment on the part of law enforcement and city leaders.
But, just as violent crime is fluid, the city must be nimble in embarking on new strategies to reduce murders of all sorts.
As many as a dozen of this year’s 64 homicides might be related to domestic violence. That calls for a community conversation on whether enough resources are available to keep family members safe.
The past week saw two persons killed outside of bars at closing time. That’s an all-too-frequent time of danger that citizens should be aware of and that the establishments should aim to prevent.
Unfortunately, a strategy to prevent people from making horrible decisions continues to be elusive. That appeared to be the case Saturday when a 24-year-old mother allegedly shot and killed her 5-year-old son accidentally after drinking and arguing with her boyfriend. According to reports, the couple had purchased a handgun the day before.
Kansas City is hampered by Missouri’s increasingly lenient gun laws. At a recent Board of Police Commissioners meeting, a police commander cited a state law allowing citizens 19 and older to carry loaded handguns in their vehicles without a permit as a likely factor in a spike in drive-by shootings. There is little doubt that the General Assembly’s eagerness to expand access to firearms has cost lives here.
But without a dramatic shift in Jefferson City, the best bet for tamping down violence seems to be the current policing strategy of focusing on the most dangerous individuals.
David M. Kennedy, the criminologist who helped to initiate the “focused deterrence” strategy used by communities nationwide, said during a visit here on Thursday that the No Violence Alliance, also known as KC NoVa, was doing its job well. He said it was poised to get better as police and others refine their techniques for dealing with potential offenders.
Kennedy warned against being “buffeted by short-term movement.” He added, “This stuff is really powerful, but it’s not so powerful that it works if you don’t sustain it.”
While Kansas City’s count of 64 homicides is higher than the 53 it had logged at this point last year, the city is still on pace to experience fewer murders than in other recent years.
A positive feature of focused deterrence, Kennedy pointed out, is that it zeroes in on the relatively small number of individuals who are most likely to commit violent crimes instead of punishing the neighborhoods in which they live with overly aggressive police enforcement.
Given recent tensions nationwide between communities of color and police, it obviously makes more sense to form an alliance with neighborhood residents in fighting crime than to further alienate them.