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Kansas City Police chief unveils plan to reduce violent crime and calls for city-wide effort

Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves speaks to a crowd at United Believers Community Church in the Hickman Mills neighborhood on Thursday night.
Peggy Lowe
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves speaks to a crowd at United Believers Community Church in the Hickman Mills neighborhood on Thursday night.

Chief Stacey Graves, just five months into the job, promised more officers on the streets to help curb the high homicide and violence rates. Community members overwhelmingly called for local control of the department.

Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves laid out an ambitious plan to reduce violent crime Thursday night, including creating a new illegal firearms squad, putting more officers on the street, providing more de-escalation training and working with a city-wide violence-interruption team.

Graves told the 95 people gathered at United Believers Community Church in the Hickman Mills neighborhood that the effort must be city-wide, including all levels of government and the community.

“The only way we can root out violent crime is if everyone takes a stand against it,” Graves said. “I urge you: get involved.”

The audience responded, telling Graves that they want accountability, transparency and above all, local control of the police department. Kansas City is the only department in the U.S. that is not operated by local leaders, instead controlled by a state-appointed police board.

Steve Young, with KC LEAP (Law Enforcement Accountability Project), said KCPD needs to better investigate police-involved shootings, stress de-escalation tactics, and drop their “you vs. us” mentality.

“Let’s get back to ‘serve and protect’ and not ‘policing,’” Young said. “It’s two different things.”

Gwendolyn Hawks-Blue asked for more cooperation between KCPD officers and individual people.

“Create an atmosphere where a 16-year-old brown girl feels safe if pulled over by police,” Hawks-Blue said.

Just five months into the job, Graves has tried to be more responsive to community concerns than her predecessor, the controversial Chief Rick Smith, and she’s moved quickly to change the department. In response to outcry over missing Black women, she reinstated the Missing Persons Unit, which Smith had disbanded, and she’s appeared at dozens of community events, which Smith rarely did.

Combatting violent crime was one of Graves’ early promises when she was sworn in last December — the city’s homicide rate has been at crisis level for several years. Graves has already said she will be working with Partners for Peace, a violence-interruption program that includes Mayor Quinton Lucas, city hall officials and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker’s office.

Graves thanked the community for supporting the department during the recent national furor over the shooting of then-16-year-old Ralph Yarl by Andrew “Dan” Lester, an 84-year-old white Northland man. Police allowed Lester, who pleaded not guilty to two felony charges, to return home after the shooting. He surrendered a day after the charges were announced, five days after the shooting.

Pointing to an unnamed city official who criticized KCPD’s handling of the Yarl case, Graves said such comments were “disheartening.”

“Those comments were divisive, counter-productive and ultimately, hurt their constituents,” Graves said.

Councilwoman Melissa Robinson publicly called for a federal investigation into the Yarl shooting, saying KCPD had lost the trust of the city’s Black community.

Other plans Graves announced:

New illegal firearms squad — Graves said she may have mentioned this plan too soon and will have more specifics in two weeks, including expanding an existing squad and naming who will be involved in the effort. It will be placed under the Investigations Bureau.

Patrols — Graves is changing shifts so officers will work longer hours, so they can respond to more 911 calls for service. She wants officers to be more visible and reduce their response times.

“Right now we’re kind of a little bit spread out but we’re making it work, we have a minimum staffing that we’re meeting,” she said. “But this is going to put more officers on the street.”

Graves also wants the city’s six patrol divisions to send crime data to residents via text.

More community engagement — Graves gave the example of a teenager who posed with a gun and posted it on social media. Officers reached out to that person in hopes of interrupting any potential violence, she said.

Another example was her response to a spate of violence in the 35th Street and Prospect Avenue area in April. After more than 200 shots were fired over the course of two weeks, including two homicides, Graves said she made arrests for illegal firearms, added more canvasses of the neighborhood and organized cookouts to meet people.

More officer training — Graves said she wants more training for additional de-escalation tactics, so “everyone goes home safe at the end of the night.”

She's also seeking training on constitutional policies in hopes of protecting citizens' civil rights, she said.

Graves said she will debut a chief’s blog in the future with educational posts, a marketing campaign and information about quarterly town hall meetings. Graves promised the crowd she was listening.

“Watch me work, OK? Watch me work,” she said. “We have hearts behind these badges.”

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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