To its credit, the local NPR affiliate, KCUR, is at least asking the right general question when it comes to violent crime in Kansas City, namely why can’t local leaders solve the problem.
The problem should be at the forefront of every local civic discussion. Last year, the city’s homicide rate tracked seven time higher than New York City’s. This year, it is tracking ten times higher. To answer the question of why, Mayor Sly James put together a Citizens Task Force on Violence, the final report of which KCUR guests discussed in some detail.
A quick review of those on the task force would suggest, however, that the mission was doomed before it started. Chaired by liberal Kansas City councilwoman Jolie Justus, the task force was composed almost entirely of people who think like Justus does. The 18-person committee includes writers, lawyers, educators, and community activists but no police, no sheriff deputies, no jailers, no bail bondsman, nor anyone else involved in the crime business save for one assistant-prosecutor.
The task force recommendations were predictable. They began, of course, with guns. “Presentations made by the City Attorney’s office and the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms focused exclusively on the issue of guns,” the report tells us. Yet as the report also notes, state and federal laws prevent cities from making their own gun laws. Nor does the focus on guns explain why the homicide rate in Kansas City runs thirty or so times higher than it does in Johnson County where guns are just as plentiful.
On the question of law enforcement the recommendations are vague to the point of useless. Although the task force spent much time discussing “the balance between law enforcement and violence prevention,” it could offer no solution beyond increased cooperation between police and the courts.
The report goes sideways from here into a series of pointless suggestions that would just add to the city’s already bloated bureaucracy. The recommendations include a Youth Master Plan, a Centers for Disease Control study of homicide in Kansas City, the creation of interagency domestic violence fatality review teams, a full-time staff position to coordinate the city’s violence prevention efforts, storefront community resource centers, an electronic database for community resources, a mentoring program with Kansas City’s civic and business leaders, and a a public service campaign to address the culture of violence.
In 1993, the year Republican Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor of New York City, the city experienced 1946 homicides. This was not an anomaly. The city averaged more than 2,000 homicides a years during the four years of his Democratic predecessor’s term. By the time Giuliani left office eight years later, the homicide rate was in the 600 annual range. By the time his successor Michael Bloomberg left office, the homicide rate was in the 300 annual range. Did anyone on this task force think to say, “Hey, what did they do in New York?” According to KCUR, it does not appear so.