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'It's A Nightmare' — Police And Community Leaders Puzzled By Spike In Homicides In South Kansas City

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3
A KCPD officer guards a recent murder scene. There have been 11 homicides in South Patrol so far this year. Last year at this time there were zero.

The South Patrol Division of the Kansas City Police Department has recorded 11 homicides so far this year, when there were 0 this time last year.

Kansas City, Missouri, has continued to struggle with a rising tally of homicides and shootings, even amid the coronavirus pandemic. But one area of the city, in particular, has seen a major — and largely unexplained — spike in killings.

The South Patrol Division of the Kansas City Police Department, which stretches roughly from Bannister Road south to Grandview, has recorded 11 homicides in less than six months. This time last year, the division had zero homicides.

The sudden jump has taken KCPD officials and community leaders by surprise.

"I'm shocked," Stacey Johnson-Cosby, President of the South Kansas City Alliance, said. "It's a nightmare."

Johnson-Cosby said she also doesn't know why it's happening. Since 2016, the division has averaged 14 homicides a year, according to police data.

Missouri state Rep. Mark Sharp, a south Kansas City Democrat elected to the General Assembly last year, was also stunned when he figured out what was happening.

"These numbers just are kind of flying under the radar," he told KCUR.

So under the radar that members of the Board of Police Commissioners were also taken by surprise at their meeting two weeks ago.

When the board asked Deputy Chief Mark Francisco about the spike he said there might be an increase in youth gang activity. But he just wasn't sure.

"These crime trends tend to be transitory sometimes," Francisco told the board. "They kind of migrate around the city and it appears South Patrol is taking their turn."

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, however, says the uptick could be due, in part, to an increase in gang activity. The pandemic has shut down some important programs in south Kansas City aimed at high-risk youth.

"We’re trying to figure out how we can rebuild that right now,” she said.

Community leaders like Johnson-Cosby seem to have a good relationship with KCPD. She said she recently spoke to the South Patrol Division's community interaction officer. Now that she knows about the big increase in homicides, she wants to help.

"As community members, what can we do?" she said.

Sharp, the Missouri lawmaker, agrees.

“It’s really up to us to get the information out. One, that there’s been a huge spike. And two, to try and start a conversation on how we can try and reduce these numbers," he said.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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