After illegal club shooting, Kansas City's new task force targets problem businesses
As the city experiences a surge in homicides, officials hope collaborating with local businesses and targeting quality of life issues will reduce violence in the long run.
A new task force combining local law enforcement and city departments will try to reduce violence by targeting the environmental factors that can contribute to crime.
The Kansas City council approved the Multidisciplinary Public Safety Task Force last month, amid the city’s deadliest year for homicides since 2020.
The task force includes representatives from the city health department, public works, parks and recreation, transportation, regulated industries and municipal court.
Using data collected from 311 and 911 service calls, the group will identify businesses or properties with many complaints or violations. The task force will then work with the business owner to remedy those problems, which could include adding more lighting or cleaning up trash.
The idea is that identifying environmental and infrastructure issues — and fixing them — will solve persistent quality of life issues and prevent crime in the long run.
“For the eight years I've been in public office, I've seen it time and again,” said Mayor Quinton Lucas. “We've seen that there's a place where perhaps officers have been called dozens of times or there's a place where codes enforcement from Regulated Industries or other divisions have said, ‘We've seen any number of citations and violations,’ but we're not connecting the dots here.”
Melesa Johnson, director of public safety for the mayor’s office, said the task force is an extension of the KCPD’s violence reduction initiative, a partnership between the city, Kansas City police and local violence prevention groups unveiled in May.
The public safety task force conducted its first site visit earlier this month at the Express Stop gas station and convenience store on the corner of 10th and Locust, where a man was shot and killed in June. The Express Stop received more than 50 calls for service and 14 police reports in the past year.
City staff inspected the business and identified weeds, graffiti and trash. The business owner is now working with the city to remedy those issues.
Some violations that could prompt action from the task force include graffiti, weeds and illegal dumping.
“Things that neighbors have told us about time and time again,” Lucas said. “And for years have demonstrated to us a propensity to violent crime conduct at a property long after.”
Lucas said if a business or property owner is unwilling to fix those code violations, the city will look to shut it down.
That happened last month, when the city shut down and revoked the business license of an auto repair shop at 56th and Prospect for operating as an illegal nightclub. A mass shooting in June at that club claimed the lives of three people and injured 9 others. The illegal club had become a hotspot for 911 calls and complaints from nearby residents.
Lucas said the task force will focus on places instead of solely targeting people.
“We're going to make sure that we reduce violent crime by listening to the people, by looking at those quality of life issues,” he said. “And by, more than anything, focusing on places, how can we abate concern at places without necessarily interrupting the daily lives of people."
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority is also part of the task force and will work with the city to make sure people feel safe taking public transit by increasing lighting at bus stops or increasing security on buses.
5th District Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw said the city is looking at vacant and abandoned properties owned by the city’s Land Bank, which can also become hotspots for crime.
Kansas City Police Department Capt. Jonas Baughman said the task force will use risk terrain modeling, a data analysis technique that looks at the environmental conditions that lead to crime. Baughman said the KCPD began using risk terrain modeling in 2020.
“By focusing on features of the landscape where risk of crime is high, we can work to improve challenged areas from the inside out, making them less prone to victimization and less suitable areas for offenders to choose to commit their crimes,” Capt. Baughman said.
Mayor Lucas said he’s interested in potential legislation requiring businesses that serve liquor to have a safety plan and authorizing an emergency suspension of club licenses that have consistent problems. The Wichita City Council passed similar legislation earlier this month after a shooting at a local nightclub.