Kansas City must keep battling to reduce persistently high murder rates

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker charged fewer people with homicides in 2014, as they dropped dramatically.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker charged fewer people with homicides in 2014, as they dropped dramatically. skeyser@kcstar.com

When the FBI recently released a voluminous report on crime figures from 2014, it highlighted this fact: The number of murders across the United States decreased by 0.5 percent.

Kansas City easily outdistanced that mark. Homicides here plummeted 21 percent.

According to numbers reported to the FBI, Kansas City’s murders fell from 99 in 2013 to 78 in 2014.

Here’s the disappointing twist:

Kansas City still had the eighth worst murder rate among the 50 largest U.S. cities last year, according to information compiled by The Star using the FBI report and U.S. Census Bureau population estimates.

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Moreover, this was only a modest improvement for Kansas City. It had the fourth worst murder rate among the country’s 50 biggest cities in 2013 and the fifth worst in 2012.

Overall, Kansas City’s homicide rate has fallen from 22.6 per 100,000 people in 2012 to 16.6 in 2014. The national rate was 4.5 last year.

Kansas City hasn’t dropped further in the rankings because violent crime has declined in recent years in many other large cities. Also, Kansas City started at a high mark.

Kansas City’s still-notable progress in 2014 occurred, in part, because of concentrated efforts by police, social service officials and citizens to stanch the bleeding on the city’s streets.

The Kansas City No Violence Alliance program deservedly has gained the most attention. In a collaborative effort with prosecutors, federal law enforcement agencies, University of Missouri-Kansas City criminologists and social workers, police identify the persons most likely to commit violent crimes as well as others in their “circles.” NoVa targets them for intervention through aggressive law enforcement or social services that helps them get a job or a better education.

Yet all that work wasn’t enough to make Kansas City as safe as many of its peers in 2014. Murder rates per 100,000 people for other cities included 3.5 for Austin, 4.7 for Denver, 6.4 for Fort Worth, 7.2 for Omaha, 7.3 for Oklahoma City and 9.1 for Dallas.

Several large cities that have suffered from negative crime news in the past also are doing better than Kansas City. They include New York City (3.9 homicides per 100,000 people), Boston (8.1) and Houston (10.8).

If there’s a silver lining for Kansas City, the big drop in its 2014 murder rate brought it closer to a few other cities, such as Milwaukee, Chicago, Indianapolis and Cleveland.

Finally, Kansas City’s streets weren’t as deadly as those in Detroit, which led the nation with 43.8 homicides per 100,000 people in 2014. Other cities that have had high murder rates the last few years were Baltimore, New Orleans, Oakland and Atlanta.

St. Louis had a sky-high murder rate of 50.1 in 2014, but it’s no longer among the 50 largest U.S. cities.

By now, most Kansas Citians know the number of local homicides has jumped so far in 2015, especially after a spate of deaths in September.

Through Thursday, the Police Department had reported 77 murders, just one less than was initially recorded in all of 2014. In addition, a spike in murders is occurring in other cities, including Milwaukee, St. Louis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

As we have noted, that doesn’t mean prevention strategies such as NoVa are failing. While police have succeeding in slowing gang violence, it appears homicides have increased in domestic violence cases this year. The easy access to guns is making it far too common for arguments to escalate into senseless killings.

The Star has called for the General Assembly to reverse course and tighten Missouri’s overly lenient gun laws. In the 2016 legislative session, Kansas City officials should again promote common sense changes that include a special court docket to expedite and properly handle gun cases.

Despite occasional steps forward, the recent increase in Kansas City’s murders shows just how difficult it’s going to be to consistently improve the city’s dismal national homicide ranking.

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