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It takes a community

Co-authored by Mayor James and KCPD Chief Rick Smith If you’re like both of us, you look at Kansas City’s crime statistics and wince. Maybe you get angry. Maybe you want someone or something to blame. We get it. We do, too.

But crime is complex. Criminal behavior usually isn’t driven by just one thing, and we won’t be able to bring down crime in our city with quick fixes. We believe 2018 can be the year that our neighborhoods see true relief from violence, but it will take more than anything the police or the city government alone can provide. It will take you. We need each Kansas Citian to prioritize crime reduction in our community. There is no substitute for an engaged citizenry when it comes to fighting crime.

The men and women of law enforcement rely on tips and information from members of our community to help solve crimes. If you see something, hear something or know something, do something. Both of us are powerless to help make our neighborhoods safer without your help. To that end, KCPD recently increased the TIPS hotline reward to $5,000.

While police and city government can’t fix the crime problem alone, we are doing a great deal to address it. The Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KC NoVA) has been working hard to stop the recent spate of homicides. In fact, the percentage of homicides resulting from group-related violence – KC NoVA’s focus – has dropped steadily since the group started in 2013. However, overall homicide numbers are still going up, and we’re trying a number of things to stop that.

KC NoVA is bringing all of our city’s key players to the table to address the very small percentage of people who are responsible for a lot of the violence in Kansas City. Every morning, representatives from a host of agencies meet in person and by conference call to talk about what crime happened in the last 24 hours and any intelligence that was developed. The meeting is led by KCPD’s Gang Intelligence Unit and includes a variety of internal units at the KCPD as well as our local, state and federal partners. These heavy hitters work together every day to identify the most dangerous people in our community and how we can best arrest and prosecute them.

We also work to rehabilitate those who want to leave a life of crime. NoVA client advocates presently work with more than 100 people who want to avoid criminal behavior and be productive members of society. Advocates provide everything from conflict resolution skills to substance abuse treatment to job training. NoVA partners also have made nearly 100 visits to individuals who were incarcerated as the result of NoVA enforcement and worked with them to prepare for a law-abiding life on the outside. It’s still early, but their rate of recidivism appears to be significantly lower than average.

The Ruskin area in south Kansas City had recently experienced an elevated level of violent crime and quality of life issues. NoVA partners knocked on 697 homes in the Ruskin Heights neighborhood this past year to inform hundreds of families that police presence would be increasing, violence would not be tolerated and resources were available to help families get their loved ones back on the straight and narrow. The Violent Crimes Enforcement Division along with our NoVA partners is working with community members to identify specific neighborhood problems and concerns. We have already observed a reduction in the criminal activity occurring. Each year, we examined the date range of August through December. We found that crime categories, including aggravated assault, domestic violence, armed robbery, and strong-arm robbery, collectively increased from 2014 through 2016. Crime rose 56 percent between 2014 and 2015 and another 11 percent between 2015 and 2016. However, data show a 10 percent decrease for the same date range in 2017 when compared to 2016. Police will continue to work with City Codes Enforcement Officers to address blighted homes. The goal is to improve the neighborhood, reduce criminal activity and restore resident satisfaction. We intend to replicate this geographical targeted policing into other areas of the city.

Teens in Transition is another program of KC NoVA. Funded by the offices of the Mayor and Jackson County Prosecutor, this program has brought 40 teens at risk for violence together each of the past three summers. Led by Michael Toombs of Arts Tech, they learn conflict resolution skills, undergo job training and art therapy. The whole time, KCPD’s school resource officers work alongside the teens to build relationships and trust. The kids who graduate from the program have significantly fewer negative contacts with police than they did before they started.

You’ll notice many of these crime-fighting efforts are less about going out and arresting people and more about giving them the resources they need to prevent them from turning to crime. One way KCPD is doing that is through a social worker embedded at Central Patrol Division. Here’s one great example: For years, officers have tried to enforce away issues with teens congregating on the Country Club Plaza in the summer and violating laws. This past summer, the social worker, Gina English, went to the Plaza and surveyed the kids about why they were there. After some citations for curfew violation the initial weekend the summer curfew went into effect, the problems on the Plaza decreased that summer. Gina identified the issues that drove idle youth to congregating and breaking laws, and those underlying issues were addressed by her social work and the responsible citizenship classes Gina taught to the children and parents who’d been cited for curfew violations. It was more effective than anything police had done to address the problem. To read more about what social work is accomplishing in Central Patrol Division, check out Chief Smith’s blog from last week. Like the client advocates at KC NoVA, social work is proving to be an innovative solution to public safety problems.

We’re about to see even more of this happen in Kansas City. The Police Department has just secured funding to embed a social worker at all six patrol division stations. More information on that will be forthcoming.

The way the police department shares and acts on crime information also has changed in a way that increases accountability. A sergeant skilled at data and intelligence analysis provides both the patrol divisions and Chief Smith with detailed weekly crime data and maps, pointing out patterns, recent parolees and concerning issues that need follow-up. Every week, officers and commanders assigned to each of the city’s six patrol divisions meet to discuss crime issues and neighborhood concerns in their area. Then every Wednesday, the commanders report how they’re working within their divisions to address those issues. They also discuss how they can partner with other internal divisions like Violent Crimes, Violent Crimes Enforcement, Special Operations, Traffic and Homeland Security and bring to bear the resources of those specialized units to stop the crime.

We understand the need for our law enforcement community to look like, and to understand, the people who live in our neighborhoods. We’re both committed to increasing the diversity of our police force. There is a KCPD recruitment fair from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 13, at the Hillcrest Community Center, 10401 Hillcrest Rd. Department recruiters will be on site taking information from people interested in serving with KCPD and answering questions about employment. We’d love for community members from a wide variety of backgrounds to come apply.

Striving for a diverse workforce is nothing new for KCPD, and it’s something we are always trying to enhance. In 2017, KCPD was out recruiting everywhere from urban core high schools and churches to the Bosnian Community Picnic to LGBT festivals to universities and military bases. Among a host of other diversity recruitment initiatives, KCPD has been working with Kansas City Public Schools to build a program for interested students to learn about law enforcement with the goal of having them eventually join the department. In the coming months, KCPD will be operating a career center at the Manual Career and Technical Center in downtown. The purpose is to develop and mentor young people so those students looking for jobs after they graduate from high school can pass the background examination and go into civilian positions on the KCPD (such as desk clerks, building maintenance and other spots) until they reach the age of 21 and can become police officers. KCPD also is implementing a summer youth police academy for 12- to 15-year-olds in partnership with the Parks Department. The goal is for urban core youth to have a continuum of exposure to and mentoring by police from middle school to graduation. Those young people grew up in and understand the neighborhoods that are most in need of police presence, and we need them in the department.

That’s just some of what we’re doing in terms of internal changes in working with our community and law enforcement partners to address crime in 2018. We have the bold goal of getting Kansas City off the 10 Most Dangerous Cities list and look forward to what contributions our residents can make in helping us achieve that.

We believe all Kansas Citians deserve to live in a safe and healthy environment.It takes a community to make it possible. When we work together as a community, we have the capacity to solve our city’s most complex issues. Let’s come together now.

Sincerely,
Sylvester “Sly” James, Jr.
Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri