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Prosecutor Says Kansas City Police Response To Non-Fatal Shootings Is 'Pathetically Small'

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Tony Webster
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Kansas City Police Department data show non-fatal shootings are up 26% year-to-year.

It is not just homicides that are vexing Kansas City police. Non-fatal shootings are up 26% year-to-year, according to KCPD data. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker says casework is filed in only 19% of those attacks. She calls that "a pathetically small number."

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker minced no words in her evaluation of the way Kansas City police are handling the skyrocketing number of non-fatal shootings.

“If you look at the number of nonfatal shootings that the police department is able to submit to me for filing, it's really a pathetically small number,” she said.

As of mid-September, 452 people have been shot in Kansas City, according to Kansas City Police Department data. KCPD calls those "bullet to skin" shootings because the department doesn't count gunfire that hits houses and cars but not people. Non-fatal shootings are up 26% year-to-year.

But an analysis by Baker's office shows detectives file casework with the prosecutor in only 19% of non-fatal shootings.

“If the PD could raise their clearance rate on those cases, more could come to me, more people see justice, and then they would have a better faith in the criminal justice system,” Baker told KCUR.

Nationally, about 30% of non-fatal shootings are cleared by police, according to an analysis by The Trace.

In response to Baker's harsh assessment KCPD spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina issued this statement, "We remain focused on completing the best investigations we can in the most timely manner we can to bring justice to those impacted by violent crime."

The department also did not dispute the prosecutor's numbers.

"They are her numbers, hard to dispute someone else's numbers, nor would it be productive to do so," Becchina said in an email.

Mayor Quinton Lucas, who sits on the Police Board of Commissioners, says he wakes up every morning to reports of more killings and shootings.

“I'm not here to attack people,” Lucas said. “Everybody needs to try harder."

Lucas suggests more crimes could be solved if police used crowdsourcing but that takes relationship building.

He added, "Lots of people have social media videos, believe it or not, of these crimes, but lots of these same people are not talking to the police.”

Baker agrees and says the whole community needs to think about shooting victims differently.

She explained, "There just seems to be a callousness, not just the system that prevails over them, but our community as a whole."

As part of her analysis of non-fatal shooting data, Baker found statistical evidence confirming what many have suspected. Most shooting victims are African-American males between 16 and 30 years old. Most live within two miles of their homes and most are in the urban core.

Still, Baker insists, all of the information is useful as Kansas City tries to reduce the number of homicides and non-fatal shootings.

"What more can we do to learn about them? How can we serve them and how can we start turning this problem into fewer numbers?” she asked.

Investigators will often say a non-fatal shooting is a failed homicide.

A 2016 study done by the Police Executive Research Forum for Cleveland police found unsolved non-fatal shootings lead to more homicides.

"A lack of urgent response to shootings can also negatively impact homicide investigations," the report said. "Someone who commits a non-fatal shooting may very well commit a homicide if not apprehended."