Guest Commentary

Priorities in the fight against crime in Kansas City

Councilman Quinton Lucas represents Kansas City’s Third District at large.
Councilman Quinton Lucas represents Kansas City’s Third District at large.

With a welcome pause in airport-palooza, I appreciate The Star editorial board’s attention to the issue of violent crime as a key local issue in 2018.

Too many people lost their lives in 2017. Too many in 2016. And we haven’t done enough. While the goals of the anti-violence task force last year were laudable, the recommended outcomes fell short. We have a violent crime resources coordinator (who should appear soon before council and the police board), but we still don’t seem to have a coherent plan from City Hall on crime. The clearest evidence of that was the wrong-headed and one-off Westport privatization plan that now may suggest the only way to address violent criminality is to erect barricades throughout the city, give away public spaces and hope private businessmen’s councils will protect the public while not eviscerating rights, two square blocks at a time (I guess).

During each of these chats, people tend to say, “Fine, what are you going to do about it?” I’ve given some thoughts over the holiday season and would start with a few simple approaches:

1. Fund social workers in each police patrol division. The work of Gina English in the police department’s Central Patrol Division has been phenomenal in helping resolve situations where the arrival of uniformed officers may not be most effective in defusing domestic concerns, or in

reaching out to community members and teens who are not always comfortable with police interactions.

2. Fund (and adequately compensate) enough officers to be deployed throughout the community, particularly at the neighborhood interaction level. Although this has come to be viewed from a sometimes-partisan lens, a key driver in New York City’s crime reduction was the initiative led by former Mayor David Dinkins, a progressive and the city’s first African American mayor, to place more officers in precincts and to improve quality of life for city residents, including those in economically distressed areas. Kansas City needs the same, and not just to focus on crime issues in a few key entertainment areas.

3. Part of funding more officers is to ensure there are resources to train and recruit a diverse workforce that protects people’s rights and civil liberties, while also ensuring safety for the public. The police chief has stated on numerous occasions that he wants to recruit a diverse workforce. Let’s create support and incentivize police efforts for doing so. At the same time, training also has to involve our officers in communities, letting them when first joining the force get know more than locations, but also community members and leaders, neighborhood resources, schools. We need to know that they are part of our community, not outsiders.

4. Address the necessity of incarcerating certain individuals for municipal offenses. Too often we look at different issues in silos. One of those is the Jackson County jail. Many are saying that it’s a travesty, but the only fixes floated so far seem to be either federal oversight or a new facility. Maybe some of its inmates just don’t need to be there. The city should assess its ordinance violations, see its results in protecting the public from violent criminal activity, and propose a path that allows policing (and courts) to address serious criminal actors and provides alternative resources to a number of other social issues that bring individuals into the criminal justice system.

5. Appeal to the state to fund our criminal justice system at the state court level adequately. Our public defenders’ workload and pay are embarrassments. Resources given to our courts and even prosecutors’ offices aren’t much better. The city has lobbyists in Jefferson City each year to push our economic development and other initiatives. If we’re concerned about quality of life for Kansas Citians, this should be a lobbying priority as well.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but just addressing some of the items can keep us from navel-gazing or wrongheaded diversions like street privatization, and instead move us toward more solutions.

Councilman Quinton Lucas represents Kansas City’s Third District at large. A version of this column first appeared Wednesday on his Facebook page.