The task force that Mayor Sly James appointed to examine violence in Kansas City and propose measures to reduce it will have its work cut out when it convenes for its first monthly meeting on Tuesday.
The city closed out 2015 with a devastating recurrence of a homicide count that topped 100 and alarming increases in non-fatal shootings and other severe crimes.
A new calendar didn’t make things any better. Kansas City experienced five homicides in the first six days of 2016.
The mayor’s 19-member task force, chaired by Councilwoman Jolie Justus, will use most of this year to gather information and data about Kansas City’s crime problem and recommend sensible courses of action. Tuesday’s meeting at 6 p.m. at the Gregg/Klice Community Center is open to the public.
Its members, who represent law enforcement as well as faith and community groups, already understand how deep-rooted and vexing the problem is. Kansas City’s violent crime rate is consistently among the highest of the nation’s big cities.
The 109 homicides the city experienced in 2015 were especially troubling because murders had fallen off the year before. Kansas City logged 81 homicides in 2014 and police and others had hoped to drive the number down even lower.
Some of the credit for the 2014 drop had been attributed to the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, a collaborative effort among state and federal law enforcement officials that focuses on people who associate with violence-prone groups.
The “focused deterrence” tactics used by the alliance helped significantly reduce the number of those homicides attributed to those group members in 2014. While the number of group-related homicides increased from 46 to 60 in 2015, that still represents a much lower percentage of overall murders than had been the case before the new initiative.
Any talk of abandoning the focused deterrence effort at this point is premature and foolish. The collaboration among city police, county prosecutors and the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office makes ultimate sense.
So does the approach of offering criminal group members life-changing services and opportunities but targeting them with intense law enforcement efforts if they fail to reform.
But clearly more must be done.
▪ Kansas City is due for a study to determine whether the Police Department has enough officers assigned to patrol the streets and work proactively in neighborhoods. Reported manpower shortages could be a result of too few overall officers on the force or a matter of staffing priorities
Police experts recommend that officers have ample time to work on problem solving and crime prevention, as opposed to racing from call to call. Stopping a crime before it happens is a much more efficient use of resources than cleaning up afterward.
▪ The city and state should get moving on setting up special court dockets for armed offenders. Cases involving gun crimes should be expedited and receive special attention. That isn’t happening now.
▪ A spike in domestic violence homicides last year — to 15 from four — calls for a review of whether potentially violent partners are being identified early enough and whether steps can be taken to prevent potential tragedies. Already in 2016, a man has been charged with the murder of his wife.
▪ The community also must identify steps to tamp down violence in the 17- to 24-year-old age group. Homicides in this group more than doubled last year, with 44 victims. Police say that many of the murders appear to have resulted from encounters between two persons, leaving a victim in the street or in a car, with no apparent witnesses or helpful evidence.
While most homicide victims in 2015 had some association with a criminal lifestyle, innocent victims were swept into the mayhem.
They included 3-year-old Amorian Hale, who was hit with a bullet when his family’s home came under attack while he was sleeping. Also murdered was 1-year-old Joseph Fletcher, who was shot along with his mother and another young man. A 22-year-old man, believed to be Joseph’s father, is charged with the crimes.
Another especially senseless death was that of 19-year-old Murishi Sylvestre, who was shot in a parking lot in the Northeast area on Dec. 14. Sylvestre had fled the African nation of Burundi with his parents to escape violence there. He should have been safe in his own neighborhood, but he wasn’t. His murder is unsolved.
The mayor’s task force cannot singlehandedly stop the acts of violence that blemish Kansas City. Neither can the police, or the No Violence Alliance.
Somehow the community has to convince young people, especially, that there is no justification for taking a life or committing reckless acts that result in murder.
That’s an effort that must begin in homes and spread out from there. It is Kansas City’s all-consuming task.