Missouri law severely limits Kansas City’s gun-control powers. But three rookie city council members say there’s still a lot the city can do to combat its violent crime crisis.
Strategies include more community policing, more social services for struggling families and even a big push for local hires on the new Kansas City International Airport terminal project. Confronting violence will take a comprehensive community-wide approach, they say.
“This is not just public safety or public health,” said Andrea Bough, the new 6th District at-large councilwoman. “We need to bring all those community organizations, faith-based organizations, schools and business leaders together.”
Bough, an attorney who lives in south Kansas City, joined 3rd District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson and 1st District at-large Councilman Kevin O’Neill in discussing their council goals on KCUR’s Up To Date.
They are one month into their four-year terms after being sworn into office Aug. 1. Robinson represents the urban core and is president of the Black Health Care Coalition. O’Neill lives in the Northland and owns the Labor Beacon newspaper.
All three agreed combating crime is among their top priorities. As of Aug. 30, Kansas City notched 100 homicides and ranked No. 5 in a list of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. according to a 2018 list compiled by USA Today.
“I do think hopelessness is a huge factor,” O’Neill said, adding that city leaders and others must work to create hope and opportunity.
Robinson said it’s particularly hard for residents who “see so much prosperity around them and not in their communities.”
“Kansas City has grown in very beautiful ways in certain pockets of our community, and they are directly adjacent to the neighborhoods that have the blight and the crime,” she said. “So we need to think about shared prosperity.”
More than one approach
The Missouri Legislature has prohibited Kansas City from adopting its own stringent gun control laws. Still, the city council just approved measures sponsored by new Mayor Quinton Lucas that give police more tools under municipal law to seize guns from minors.
“I think that there’s a lot more that we can do,” Robinson said. For example, each police station has a few community policing officers, she said, but more are needed in strategic locations to build trust and relationships to fight and prevent crime.
Robinson said she’s also trying to develop a “guardians program” among residents, business owners and others who can promote safe routes to urban schools.
“Where the crime is happening most, a lot of our children are now scared to walk to school,” she lamented.
In addition, Robinson noted that the Kansas City health department is working on a youth and family violence prevention plan that should provide social intervention assistance and head off family crises. The Health Department confirmed a draft plan will be unveiled in the community over the next few months. It could go to the council for approval late this year.
Bough said the council can also support a living wage, more mental health services and affordable housing, to address some root causes of violence.
KCI construction could help
For many people and communities, the best violence prevention solution is a job. To that end, O’Neill said the city must ensure that the $1.5 billion KCI airport terminal improvement project is a major job generator.
The project is just getting underway and is slated for completion in 2023. The lead development company, Edgemoor, is based in Maryland. Some concerns have surfaced about the small percentage of work performed so far by local workers.
“I have been worried about this from the very beginning,” O’Neill said, adding that this project has the potential to be “game changing” for Kansas City’s economic vitality. He said it should provide many construction-related jobs for local residents, including minorities who have often felt left out of past projects.
“I don’t know if Edgemoor is doing enough,” O’Neill said, “but I can tell you we’re going to be very involved in making sure they do.”
Robinson said this can have a direct impact on the city’s crime problem by opening the door for young people to great construction careers and a shot at a better future.
“This is an opportunity for us to allow people to get into the middle class,” she said.
Correction: Kansas City's rank on the list of dangerous cities was misstated. It comes in at No. 5 on the list.
Lynn Horsley is a freelance journalist and was a veteran reporter for The Kansas City Star. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley