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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • LV Times columnist: Signs point to crime potentially cooling in KCMO

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  • Starting in spring 2008, there has been a major surge of violence in the black neighborhoods of Kansas City, Mo.
    In calendar year 2007, there were 94 homicides in KCMO — 62 black and 32 other races. In 2008, there were 126 homicides in KCMO — 95 black and 31 other races.
    In all of the calendar years after 2008, there were significantly more black homicides in KCMO than there were in 2007, while homicide totals for other races were lower than they were in 2007.
    And, most damning of all, this occurred at a time when around the nation most cities were seeing drops in their homicide totals in the years after 2007. At the end of calendar year 2013, KCMO had the dubious distinction of being the American city with the fifth highest per capita rate of homicides.
    While 2014 is only a little more than half over, there are some hopeful signs that our city is turning the crime situation around.
    Specifically, right now we stand at 35 homicides for 2014 — compared to 53 at this point in 2013. Homicide totals have fallen across racial lines: Today we stand at 25 black homicides for 2014 and 10 homicides for other races. At this point in 2013, we were at 39 black homicides and 14 for other races.
    Einstein said it best: “Prognostication is difficult, especially about the future.” We cannot be certain what the remainder of the year will bring, but right now we are on track to have the lowest homicide total for KCMO since the late 1960s.
    In explaining this fall in the homicide total, I would point to two factors.
    First, there is the effective leadership of the city’s police chief, Darryl Forte. In modern America, any big city police chief has to square a most difficult circle: He has, on the one hand, to convince skeptical minority communities that police will treat them in a respectful way; and secondly, he has to convince the men and women under his/her command that he will not allow unfair charges of racism to be made against his/her officers. 
    This later factor is what I feel led to the explosion of violence in the black neighborhoods of KCMO in spring 2008. In 2007-08, the Sofia Salva case was regularly in the news — she was the black woman who was stopped by two Kansas City Police Department officers for a traffic violation and taken to jail.
    Salva was pregnant and had a miscarriage, and the two officers were dismissed.
    Now, you can debate both ways on whether the officers should have been dismissed, but what was unfortunate about this tragedy was that most of the local reporters, terrified of being accused of racism, did not cover the case with even a fig leaf of fairness. 
    The city's Police Board, likewise terrified of accusations of racism, did not adjudicate the case with even a pretense of fairness. Now, in human terms, I understand why the city’s journalists and politicians acted as they did: In modern U.S. politics, no charge is more damaging to one’s career than the charge of racism.
    Page 2 of 2 - However,  the men and women of the KCPD, realizing that if accused of racism they were not going to be treated fairly, out of sheer self-survival abandoned the black neighborhoods of the city to the gangs and criminal elements.
    Chief Forte has worked hard to build trust with the minority communities in KCMO. He regularly goes to community meetings and is quick to show up at homicide sites to talk to people in the area.
    But, and this is equally critical, he also defends his officers against unfair charges of racism. Personally, as I said at the time, I feel the turning point in our city’s battle against crime came in January 2014 when Chief Forte publicly disagreed with City Councilman Jermaine Reed’s charge that the KCPD was engaging in racist profiling.
    The cops of the beat now knew the chief would support them when they were the target of unfair accusations, so they now had the necessary morale and motivation to fight crime in the black neighborhoods of the city.
    The second factor I feel has helped the crime situation is the No Violence initiative, commonly known as NOVA.
    This initiative brings together community organizations, the prosecutor’s office, law enforcement, etc., to “zero in” on two groups.
    First, individuals with a long record of violent activities are told they are being closely monitored, and that should they reoffend they will quickly be prosecuted.
    Second, individuals judged to be in danger of getting into a criminal lifestyle are contacted and informed of programs that are available to them to turn their lives around.
    We will not know until several more months have passed — especially the traditionally high-crime month of August — whether the city has ended the long crime nightmare that began in spring 2008, but there are some hopeful early signs that this is indeed the case.

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