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Crime Continues To Rise In Kansas City, Missouri, But The Pandemic Is Hampering Police's Ability To Investigate

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Sam Zeff / KCUR
The Kansas City Police Department says the COVID-19 pandemic has cut into the number of cases they are filing. Here, two KCPD detectives investigate a homicide near 83rd and Troost in April.

KCPD has curtailed contact with the public in order to protect investigators from COVID-19. At the same time, homicides and shootings are up over last year.

There have been five homicides in Kansas City, Missouri, since Saturday night. That brings the city's total this year to 64, a dozen more than this time last year and 18 more than at this point in 2018.

At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound effect on how many criminal cases are being filed by the Kansas City Police Department.

"There is no way to sugarcoat this," Deputy Chief Mark Francisco told the Board of Police Commissioners recently. "It is going to take us a little while to dig out of this backlog as we get back to normal."

While the department didn't have an exact number, Board President Nathan Garrett said the overall numbers of cases are "down substantially" and there are hundreds that have not been filed and investigations that are incomplete.

Garrett called it "collateral consequences" of the pandemic.

"All the cases we can't pursue. All the interactions we cannot have. All of the preventative actions we cannot take," he said.

Early on during the pandemic, KCPD started to limit interactions with the public to protect the health of officers. In the weeks since, they have tried to maintain six feet of social distancing on calls and investigations.

All this comes even as the department continues to struggle with rising rates of violent crime.

At the same police board meeting where Francisco broke the news about less casework, he also said that people being shot, drive-by shootings and guns recovered were all up last month when compared to April 2019.

Forty-six people were shot in April. That's compared to last April, when 35 were shot.

In the first two weeks of this May, at least 28 people were hit by gunfire, according to Francisco. There were 14 more drive-by shootings and 29 more guns recovered compared to the same month last year.

So far this year, Kansas City recorded 64 homicides. This time last year, Kansas City had 52 homicides. At this point in 2018, that figure was at 46.

Since the pandemic began, two things have happened to try and help solve the issue. First, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a $3.6 million grant that will allow KCPD to hire officers and other staff to backfill for people working with a task force the Justice Department calls Operation Relentless Pursuit.

Also, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas appointed a five-member Public Safety Study Group. There have been other study groups but in a statement, Lucas insisted this one would be different.

“Not only do these members combine decades of law enforcement, prosecutorial and public sector experience," he said. "Some have lost loved ones to crime, others have family who put their lives on the line every day, and all know the devastating impact our murder epidemic has on our community.”

The study group was mandated by the city council, which required the group to report back by September 30.

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