Kansas City’s murders are dramatically down, but more progress is essential in 2015

Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté (front), Mayor Sly James (back center) and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker (back right) often present a united front in fighting the city’s high murder rate.
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté (front), Mayor Sly James (back center) and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker (back right) often present a united front in fighting the city’s high murder rate. The Kansas City Star

The No. 1 story about crime in 2014 in Kansas City has been the dramatic drop in murders.

They have fallen from 100 a year ago to only 76 through noon Sunday. That’s a significant victory for the police, prosecutors, federal officials and many others battling the city’s unacceptable homicide rate. It was fourth highest among the nation’s 50 largest cities in 2013.

The plunging number of murders has reduced the damage they do to crime-ridden neighborhoods, especially in creating a sense of fear on the streets.

Looking ahead to 2015, leaders of anti-murder programs must keep the momentum going.

It’s particularly crucial for mayoral and City Council candidates in the upcoming campaign season to provide their specific ideas on how to improve the situation. Voters want to see serious solutions discussed.

The city cannot rest on its laurels. Look at just a decade ago, when murders tumbled to 82 in 2003 before climbing a bit to 89 in 2004. Then they jumped a startling 40 percent in 2005.

One of the most essential actions needed in 2015 is to adequately finance and remain committed to the No Violence Alliance. The collaborative and focused deterrence program puts pressure on criminals, their families and their friends to avoid violence.

Officials identify the people most likely to commit violent crimes, then intervene with social services to help them get jobs, an education or other assistance. But police must continue to arrest and prosecute those who persist in a life of crime.

Police Chief Darryl Forté, Mayor Sly James and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker have become the public faces of the program, along with U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson.

In recent interviews, James and Forté vowed to make it stronger than ever.

“We’re in this for the long run,” James said, properly saying the alliance must be set up to survive future changes in political and law enforcement leaders.

Forté said he wanted the group to be “ingrained” in the Police Department, so officers are even more committed to its mission. The chief also praised increased cooperation from residents in solving violent crimes.

Other programs that appear to have helped reduce murders in 2014 must be evaluated and upgraded in 2015.

They include Aim4Peace, which is at work in several high-crime areas. The program offers help to people who, according to Aim4Peace advocates, have a disease that comes out in learned criminal behavior from parents or friends. In 2015, program supporters will need to provide further proof that it’s really making a difference.

Jackson County’s COMBAT program has funded the Anti-Violence Special Initiative with more than $550,000 this year. It includes 16 plans, such as one that helps ex-offenders stay away from crime after returning home. The county must determine which plans deserve renewed funding in 2015.

Another organization — Mothers in Charge — would love to add no new members in 2015. Sadly, that’s an impossible goal as long as mothers continue to lose children to homicides. The women provide valuable services, using their stories to try to prevent future violence.

Positive news occurred on the city’s murder front in 2014. Residents deserve to benefit from even more progress in 2015.

This is the third of a five-part series on major issues facing the region that will ignore the calendar year’s end and demand attention again in 2015.