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Kansas City Police and Local Faith Leaders Launch Partnership to Address Violence

EmmanuelCleaverIII.jpg
Jodi Fortino
/
KCUR
Pastor Emmanuel Cleaver III leads community faith leaders and Kansas City police officers in prayer before the unveiling of the partnership.

Community leaders say the effort could reduce violent crime in just a matter of months, quicker than they believe they’ll see results from federal initiative “Operation LeGend.”

The Kansas City Police Department and local faith leaders launched an initiative Tuesday aimed at tackling the city’s growing violent crime rate, hoping to connect the neighborhoods with little-known police resources like social workers and community officers.

Darron Edwards, pastor of United Believers Community Church, calls it the “Getting to the Heart of the Matter,” and says it centers around rebuilding trust in the city between the police and community.

The campaign has been in the works for months, but Edwards says he felt now was the right time to launch the effort because there were six homicides just this weekend.

“We are doing a targeted approach in looking at how faith communities can work with our police division to help bring about systemic, noticeable and sustaining systemic change in Kansas City,” said Edwards.

While violent crime has been on the rise for years, Kansas City is set to reach a historic number of homicides in 2020. This city had 148 homicides for the entire year of 2019, but has already seen 122 homicides so far this year.

Edwards says the spike is a result of existing tensions in the city that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We're dealing with a community that's frustrated, we're dealing with a community that feels like their voices are not being heard,” Edwards says. “And that's why we get into the heart of the matter.”

Churches will also work with the KCPD to identify specific issues within the department’s city divisions.

“Each division has its own set of problems, so we’ll have to identify what the problems are in each division and congregation,” Emanuel Cleaver III, pastor of St. James United Methodist Church, says.

The city’s rising number of homicides was given as an example of one of the focuses of the department’s East Patrol division.

Although Operation LeGend, a recently launched federal initiative, has “shaken things up,” Cleaver says it will take more time to see if it will make an impact on the city’s crime rate.

He says he expects to see a quicker impact with the new initiative because of the existing connection between local congregations, community members, and victims’ families.

“I think if we did nothing, then I think those families would continue to grieve and wonder if anything was going to change. But I think with this program, I think we're going to see a reduction in a matter of several months,” Cleaver says.

Cleaver says reducing the crime in a short amount of time would also rely on an emphasis on conflict resolution and mentoring to help people work out anger issues that may lead to violence.

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith says he believes the partnership will be both timely and effective.

“I think our city is looking for something like this to come from people who are invested in this community. I think they provide a different form and a different message,” Smith says.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the department plans to launch a new effort in September that focuses on getting the most persistent violent offenders off the streets.

Smith said he couldn’t confirm that the effort will be launched next month, but that it was unrelated to the one launched today.

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