Kansas City has a homicide problem. How else to explain the recent deaths of four people within a 24-hour span? Through Monday, 91 people have been killed in 2022, according to a Star database that tracks homicides, including fatal police shootings.
Last year, Kansas City recorded 157 homicides, the second-highest number of killings in city history. One year ago, 86 people were killed by the same point. In 2020, the deadliest year on record, 182 people were killed.
When Quinton Lucas campaigned for mayor, he promised to reduce homicides to under 100 per year. Since Lucas was elected in 2020, the number of killings has reached triple digits each year.
"People of Kansas City have a right to say, 'what the hell?'" Lucas said Monday. "We are not where we want to be."
No, we most definitely aren't.
This weekend's homicides offer a glimpse of the unremitting violence the city faces.
On Sunday at about 6:40 p.m., Kansas City police officers found an unidentified man mortally wounded inside an apartment in the 2600 block of East 29th Street. An argument may have preceded the incident, police said.
The day before, 78-year-old Rafael Avila-Mendez was shot to death just after 10 p.m. in the 1900 block of Kansas Avenue.
Hours earlier, police officers found Jourdan Thompson, 25, suffering from gunshot wounds in the driver's seat of a vehicle near East 38th Street and Olive Street. The woman was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
About one hour prior to that chilling discovery, officers found Keith Cole lying near the sidewalk near East 39th Street and South Benton Avenue. Cole, 55, had apparently been shot, police said. He was declared dead at the scene.
Make no mistake, the city is certain to surpass 100 homicides before summer is officially over.
We can never tire of demanding solutions to stop the violence. Violent offenders must be identified and encouraged to pursue a new way of life. Those who partake in criminal activities must understand the dire consequences of their wayward actions, including potential prison time if they refuse to lead a crime-free life.
Could the Kansas City Police Department's new anti-crime fighting approach help? Interim Police Chief Joseph Mabin announced the changes earlier this month in a blog post. An organized, collaborative strategy was badly needed. Tensions between the department and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker have cooled. The rift between the two agencies did little to help improve public safety.
Kansas City police have struggled to clear homicides in recent years. A working relationship among police, prosecutors and community leaders is a welcome development at a time when the city is on pace for one of its deadliest years ever.
Chief Mabin unveils program modeled on Omaha's
Earlier this month, Mabin announced a pilot program known as KC 360, which began in May. The program is modeled after a similar initiative in Omaha, which saw a 74% decrease in gun violence over a 10-year span beginning in 2008, according to Mabin.
In Omaha, law enforcement agencies and community partners worked together to prevent or intervene in potential conflicts that could turn deadly, and engaged those at risk of gun and gang violence.
In Kansas City, it's way too early to gauge its impact. But community partners and organizations such as the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime work together to provide services to victims and witnesses of crime or residents traumatized by recurring violence.
"How long will this pilot run?" Mabin wrote on the blog. "We don't know yet. We're trying to learn from it. We're trying to reduce violent crime. If this works - and we're hopeful - this program will expand to the whole city."
Other notable components include:
▪ The deployment of police squads in hot spots, where violent crime is known to occur.
▪ Weekly reviews of each fatal and non-fatal shooting in Kansas City, including some where shots were fired and missed but the risk for retaliation is high. Identifying suspects in attempted shootings is an important prevention measure, Mabin wrote.
Kansas City's new proactive approach to heading off violence before it occurs needs to work. Legislatively, neither Lucas nor the City Council has authority over the police department's crime-fighting initiatives. The Board of Police Commissioners, a governor-appointed five-person board, does.
Only Lucas - Kansas City's mayor has an automatic seat on the police board - answers to the public. The board's rubber-stamp approach to policing isn't helpful and removes public accountability from the department. The Prohibition-era setup isn't changing soon.
Kansas City finally has a new crime-fighting strategy. But will the newly announced initiative help lower the increasing numbers of homicides we've seen in recent years?