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For Kansas Citians In Strained Situations, Avoiding Violence Takes The Right Tools

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3

You wouldn't believe some of the things that bring people to violence, says Annette Lantz-Simmons. Mundane, seemingly everyday occurrences can lead down a dark path. 

The executive director of the Center for Conflict Resolution recalls an incident several years ago between neighbors with kids.

"The children would play outside and be noisy and use screaming voices," she says. "It got to the point where one of the parents was making death threats because of the noise."

It may seem like an over-the-top example, but Lantz-Simmons says handling high-stress situations like that without the right tools can be fraught.

"What we have found over the years is that people want to solve their issues without violence, without fighting," she says.

And she would know. Lantz-Simmons has been in the conflict resolution field for 15 years, and the program she runs has done offender-victim mediation for the Jackson County Juvenile Courts since 2004. In 2009, CCR began work for the city of Kansas City, Missouri, after its Human Relations Mediation Department was defunded.

Lantz-Simmons isn't the only one who believes in CCR's mission. Stacey Daniels-Young, who recently retired as director of Jackson County COMBAT, says, "if everybody knows we have a different way to handle conflict, you don't have to worry about fighting."

COMBAT, or the Community-Backed Anti-Violence Tax, was approved by Jackson County voters in 1989, with the goal of funding programs to curb substance abuse and drug-related crimes.

While the conflict resolution approach to violence prevention has been mostly aimed at kids and adults who've already gotten into some trouble, Daniels-Young is bullish on Lantz-Simmon's group.

Credit Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Stacey Daniels-Young, who is a former president of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, says the Center for Conflict Resolution's work is an important component of cutting crime and recidivism in the metro.

"I think we are about ready to start seeding the masses," says Daniels-Young, who joined Lantz-Simmons on KCUR's Up To Date Wednesday.

Getting stressed-out skeptics to listen to anything you have to say is tough, especially if intimidation and violence has worked for them in the past.

"Nobody likes to be told what to do, so it doesn't really work to go in and say, 'Here's what you need to do, now go do it,'" says Lantz-Simmons. "We take a lot of time and effort to build relationships with those people so that they trust us."

While both women agree on the usefulness of CCR's methods, it's less clear how successful they are over the long term.

"A lot of times the people that we work with, we lose track of after their 12-week session or whatever," Lantz-Simmons says. "We're not able to find them again, to see how they're doing later on."

And while the group has had success with people whose violent behavior has drawn authorities' attention, stopping violence from happening in the first place is an uphill battle.

"I would say that we are not getting to the right people at the right time, yet," says Lantz-Simmons. "[But] I'm hopeful about it."

Despite the challenge, Stacey Daniels-Young thinks the hard work can pay off.

"You're identifying them after something negative happens," she says, "but if you do get them then, I think you can really — hey! — get that light bulb to go off for them."

Rising violent crime rates over the last few years in Kansas City suggest CCR's work won't be done anytime soon.

"Even though violence and crime is in this cycle that we're in, we are finding new ways to reach people who are most at-risk for using violence," says Lantz-Simmons.

Hear Stacey Daniels-Young and Annette Lantz-Simmons' entire conversation with Steve Kraske here.

Luke X. Martin is associate producer for KCUR's Up To Date. Contact him at luke@kcur.org or on Twitter.

As culture editor, I oversee KCUR’s coverage of race, culture, the arts, food and sports. I work with reporters to make sure our stories reflect the fullest view of the place we call home, so listeners and readers feel primed to explore the places, projects and people who make up a vibrant Kansas City. Email me at luke@kcur.org.