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‘Enough Is Enough': Kansas City Mayor Announces New Approach To Tackling Violent Crime

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR.org
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas is surrounded on the steps of City Hall by city staff, council members, media and other interested parties as he announces a crime prevention framework that will guide Kansas City’s ongoing work to address violence in the city.

Lucas says planning for the violence prevention framework has been in the works for nearly a year, but some neighborhood groups say the announcement took them by surprise.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas announced a new crime prevention framework that takes an inclusive approach to reducing violent crime.

“This is a starting point, not a final plan,” Lucas said in a press conference at City Hall, backed by dozens of elected officials, civic leaders and law enforcement. “That’s intentional. We need and want the community to provide input.”

Kansas City is on pace for its deadliest year on record with 146 homicides so far. Police say non-fatal shootings are also up.

The new framework, dubbed The Reform Project KC, will have four pillars — prevention, intervention, enforcement and administrative reform — connecting police, the prosecutor’s office, the health department and the community.

“We recognize that we can no longer operate in silos and that we’re taking this conversation directly to the community,” Lucas said.

Prevention and intervention

Dr. Marvia Jones, violence prevention and policy manager at the Kansas City Health Department, said the factors that lead someone to pick up a gun at 15 years old began when they were far younger.

She said she grieves for young children who become victims of gun violence, but also for the children living in conditions that will lead them to violence.

“Right now, in homes not too far from where we stand today, and throughout the city there’s a five-year-old growing up in a home where the adults in his life are unemployed or making just enough to keep a shelter over their heads,” Jones said.

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Carlos Moreno
Kansas City Health Department Violence Prevention and Policy Manager Marvia Jones discusses health concerns related to addressing violence in Kansas City the during a press conference Wednesday on the steps of City Hall to announce the city's comprehensive framework on violence in the city.

She said that family may soon face eviction and potentially domestic violence — causing the child to struggle in school and face discipline.

“At some point, probably around the time he’s 15 or 16, he will have learned there’s no hope for him and that his only place in the society that we’ve allowed to be created here is to pick up a gun and watch his back against all the other individuals who’ve come to the same conclusions,” Jones said.

Lucas said prevention efforts could be making sure streets are well-lit, trash is collected and parks are maintained. It could also mean reforming school discipline and creating more employment opportunities for young adults living in areas with high levels of violent crime.

Intervention efforts will target those most at risk of getting involved in violent crime and get them connected with drug rehabilitation, mental health services and housing. It also involves providing those services to people who are incarcerated.

Enforcement and administrative reform

The goal of enforcement is simple: solve more homicides. But the agencies in charge of that — the police department and the county prosecutor — have had a rocky relationship.

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith said they are working to send more social workers and advocates to crime scenes, connecting residents looking for solutions to services and programs.

“But to those that are committing to violence, those who are actively shooting in our city, our police department is engaged and we know who you are. And we are working tirelessly to make sure that you don’t commit more violence in this city,” Smith said.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who at times has had a tense relationship with Smith, said part of the solution is humanizing those who commit violence.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this,” Baker said.

She said law enforcement, including her office, has failed to support the victims of gun violence who survive trauma.

“They’re left to suffer on their own. They’re left to figure out how to mend their own wounds, how to replace income that was lost, how to repair bullet holes in their homes and sometimes we even leave blood at crime scenes for them to clean up,” Baker said.

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Carlos Moreno
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker speaking to the media and assembled crowd at the announcement of a crime-prevention framework that will guide Kansas City’s ongoing work to address violent crime.

In the last six months, Baker has brought charges against three KCPD officers for excessive force and one for involuntary manslaughter. In several of those cases, she accused Smith and the police department of not cooperating with her office.

Smith has also come under fire for his department’s handling of protesters in the weeks following the death of George Floyd. Lucas, so far has refused to condemn the police chief, despite loud calls for Smith to be fired.

Smith said in a blog post that an 11% budget cut proposed by Lucas is untenable and would result in the loss of some 400 employees. But, with the city facing a budget shortfall created by the coronavirus pandemic, Lucas has suggested all departments will be required to adjust expectations.

As far as administrative reform, Lucas says some of that work has already begun — the city council is currently reviewing the code ordinances to remove discriminatory rules and make reforms to the municipal court to keep residents out of jail.

Community Engagement

As part of the community engagement process, city leaders will begin conducting neighborhood walks in high-crime areas to hear directly from residents about what they need from the city — whether that includes more parks, better sidewalks or better housing.

The first will take place Thursday in Kansas City's Lykins neighborhood.

But some of the community groups invited to Wednesday’s announcement say engagement has already has been lacking.

Baker noted that the absence of several civil rights organizations like the Urban League, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and NAACP at the announcement, means they still have more work to do.

“The essential parties that are missing are not here for any reason but this one: they don’t trust us. They don’t trust our plan and they don’t trust the players that are part of it,” Baker said.

Erin Royals, with the Center for Neighborhoods KC, which works with neighborhood groups and the police department, said despite the planning for this framework apparently being underway for nearly 12 months, her organization received only 48 hours’ notice of the city's press conference.

She said she was shocked to receive an e-mail from the mayor addressed to “Dear Community Leader,” asking that someone from her organization attend the event.

“It's hard to build trust with community groups when you don't include them in your planning process,” Royals told KCUR.

Royals said her organization didn’t feel they could stand in support without fully understanding the mayor’s plan.

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR.org
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas is backed on the steps of city hall by city staff, council members and other interested parties as he announces a crime-prevention framework that will guide Kansas City’s ongoing work to address violence in the city.

Some social justice organizers who did attend expressed similar frustration with the process.

Organizer Kyharra Williams said when they talk about rebuilding trust, it’s important that government officials come to them, not the other way around.

“We have to rebuild trust that was already broken. I think that’s something that has to be made very clear is that we’re not starting from scratch — we’re starting from behind,” Williams said.

Lucas acknowledged there will always be critics in the community, and he hoped those organizations will still come to the table for discussions as the process moves forward.

“In the same way that I absolutely support any event where the mayor may not be,” Lucas said.

Lucas said he plans to have steering committees to address each of the four pillars in place by January 2021.

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