Kansas City grasps for an­swers and help as homi­cides in­crease

Other ma­jor U.S. cities are deal­ing with uptick in mur­ders

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY JIM SUHR

KANSAS CITY, MO. | Kansas City al­ready was march­ing to­ward its worst homi­cide year in decades when three men were slain in separate shoot­ings over four hours one day last month. One was gunned down on a porch, an­other in a ve­hi­cle. The third man was shot in a front yard.

The blood­shed has the city in an unwanted spot­light and on the de­fen­sive, with the mayor, po­lice brass and a lo­cal anti-crime task force of­fi­cial grasp­ing for an­swers as homi­cides have soared by more than 43 per­cent so far over last year. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment al­ready had put Kansas City on a list of com­mu­ni­ties to help.

The city’s 86 homi­cides as of Tues­day were 26 more than the same pe­riod in 2016 — a year that ended with 130, the most here since 1998. The 82 lo­cal homi­cides in 2014 were the fewest in 42 years, though the 111 the next year re­turned the city to its 10-year av­er­age, po­lice fig­ures show.

The city’s homi­cide rate ac­tu­ally dropped sig­nif­i­cantly from 1993 through 2015, mir­ror­ing a na­tion­wide de­cline in vi­o­lent crime dur­ing that run, a re­cent Kansas City Star anal­y­sis showed.

But that same anal­y­sis found the homi­cide rate in 481,400-res­i­dent Kansas City is higher than the na­tional rate — typ­i­cal of big cities with large con­cen­tra­tions of peo­ple and eco­nomic de­pri­va­tion — but also is de­creas­ing at a slower rate than the rest of the coun­try.

What’s hap­pened lately has Mayor Sly James pin­ning con­sid­er­able hopes on a new, soon-to-be-filled po­si­tion meant to build coali­tions among lo­cal, di­verse crime-fight­ing in­ter­ests.

“I don’t have any magic an­swers here. I’m not God,” Mr. James — a Demo­crat, lawyer and for­mer Ma­rine who in 2015 swept to a sec­ond four-year term with 87 per­cent of the vote — told re­porters re­cently dur­ing a meet­ing of the city’s po­lice board. “There’s no ac­count­ing for the bru­tal­ity, the crime and the sense­less­ness of what goes on in this and every other large city in the coun­try.”

Other big U.S. cities also are wrestling with the issue.

● In Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas, po­lice say they need the com­mu­nity’s help com­bat­ting crime af­ter five peo­ple were gunned down last week, push­ing the 198,000-res­i­dent city’s 2017 homi­cide to­tal to 37 — 19 more than this time last year.

● In Louisville, Ken­tucky, the 73 homi­cides this year as of Tues­day — a dozen more than at this time in 2016 — puts 616,000-res­i­dent Louisville on pace for one of its blood­i­est years on record. Louisville homi­cides had hov­ered at 60 each year be­fore spik­ing to 80 in 2015, then to 118 last year.

Mr. James and oth­ers sus­pect killings in Kansas City con­tinue to have much to do with decades-old en­trenched racism, poverty, the lack of ed­u­ca­tion and jobs in the ur­ban core, and the avail­abil­ity of il­le­gal guns.

Po­lice fig­ures show that every six of 10 vic­tims of this year’s Kansas City homi­cides were black males and were ages 17 to 34, and 71 of the 86 slay­ings as of Tues­day in­volved firearms, though it’s un­clear how many of those were un­law­fully ob­tained.

On Friday the city’s po­lice board pro­moted Maj. Rick Smith — a 29-year veteran of the force and a for­mer homi­cide unit su­per­vi­sor — to the chief’s job, ef­fec­tive Aug. 15.

City Coun­cil­woman Alis­sia Cana­day said the city’s crime fig­ures “long have reached a level of ex­treme con­cern,” and “the only thing that’s com­plex about this is what it takes to get to the an­swer.”

“Peo­ple have no money and are liv­ing in blighted con­di­tions and in a dys­func­tional fam­ily set­ting. Vi­o­lence is go­ing to oc­cur. If we ad­dress that three-legged stool, we’ll see a re­duc­tion in vi­o­lence,” Ms. Cana­day said.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment an­nounced in June that it will help lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in a dozen U.S. cities, in­clud­ing Kansas City, study crime pat­terns and cre­ate spe­cially tai­lored plans to re­duce gang and gun vi­o­lence. The tar­geted cities have higher-than-av­er­age rates of vi­o­lence and are re­cep­tive to help.


As of Mon­day Kansas City has seen 86 homi­cides in 2017, which is 26 more for the same pe­riod in 2016 — a year that ended with 130 mur­ders, the most since 1998. The city’s homi­cide rate ac­tu­ally dropped sig­nif­i­cantly from 1993 through 2015, mir­ror­ing a na­tion­wide de­cline in vi­o­lent crime dur­ing that time.

Jack­son County Pros­e­cu­tor Jean Peters Baker (left) an­nounced in June the first-de­gree mur­der charges in the death of 24-year-old Ash­ley Ged­des, who was the city’s 53rd homi­cide vic­tim of 2017 in Kansas City, Mis­souri.

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