Published October 11th, 2023 at 11:41 AM5 minute read
Contrary to naysayers, violent crime — shootings that terrify communities and homicides that devastate families — can be prevented in Kansas City.
But it takes a coordinated, sustained and focused attention by neighborhood, civic, municipal and police leadership.
Ask the Santa Fe neighborhood.
The small, historically significant East Side area has been the focus of the KC 360 violence reduction initiative for more than a year.
Early statistics, unveiled at a press conference Tuesday, highlighted some success.
Between 2001 and 2021, the neighborhood accounted for more than 20% of the city’s homicides.
In 2022, Santa Fe had nine homicides. This year so far, there have been two, a 78% decrease.
City-wide, a related figure is also hopeful. Non-fatal shootings are down 8%.
“We all have a part to play,” said Klassie Alcine, CEO of KC Common Good, which oversees the KC 360 initiative.
Alcine emphasized that this is a “long-term” strategy.
“The ultimate goal is economic mobility so that folks can live and play where they are,” she said. “But we still have gaps.”
Vital community resources are starved for funding, staff and investment in grassroots community-based organizations, Alcine said.
Participants in KC 360 also report an increased level of trust with police, tracked at a 62% rise since the initiative began.
More than 9,000 hours of work have been devoted by some of the more than 60 organizations that have been tapped.
A phalanx of leaders, 10 in all, took turns at the podium during the mid-morning press conference Tuesday at the Linwood YMCA.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas referenced advice given to him early in his public service career — a person chided the future mayor for talking so much about crime.
Don’t do that so much, was the admonishment given, because nothing ever changes.
And yet, KC 360 shows that change can happen, Lucas said.
“The numbers matter, but to me, the people matter the most,” Lucas said.
The collaborative efforts of KC 360 say the status quo can change, said Lucas, who made some of his remarks in Spanish, noting the diverse group of nonprofits involved.
Marquita Taylor, Santa Fe Neighborhood Association president, referenced when she was first asked to attend a meeting to begin organizing the KC 360 effort.
More than 40 nonprofit organizations were present, all asking her one question: “What is it that Santa Fe needs?”
Taylor said she was astounded. The 360 approach, which she termed a “tremendous opportunity,” changed the dynamic of the neighborhood needing to ask for attention from the city, the police department, clergy, schools and nonprofits.
“It has been heartwarming and one of the most important things that I can remember that Santa Fe has been a part of for a really long time,” Taylor said.
Santa Fe was chosen for its high crime rates. But it also represents an era of historic affluence and forward momentum for the Black community.
Santa Fe Place, Taylor said, was the first previously exclusively white area where Black residents could buy homes after the fall of housing covenants, beginning in the late 1940s.
In 1986, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
Stunning historic homes, some maintained and others not, dot the area. Its boundaries are 27th Street to the north, Linwood Boulevard to the south, Prospect Avenue to the west and Indiana Avenue to the east.
Notably, the Santa Fe neighborhood includes the home once owned by Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball legend Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige. Fundraising is ongoing to restore the home.
Efforts to reduce crime in Santa Fe include prevention, intervention, enforcement, reentry and reform and support services.
Here are a few examples.
After a homicide happens, AIM 4 Peace social service workers meet with family members of those affected. It’s crucial intervention, often credited with preventing another retaliatory shooting.
People also can receive help to cope with the trauma of violence.
Additionally, six months before someone is ready to finish a sentence at a regional prison, they’re contacted by a team of social workers and other advocates who begin to outline a plan for re-entry. Does the person need help finding a job, obtaining safe housing or navigating away from people who were part of the influences that led to their incarceration in the first place?
Many of the KC 360 strategies echo the Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KC NoVA), which once held the promise of a sustained reduction in the homicide rate in Kansas City but fell out of favor with a former chief of police.
Both KC NoVA and KC 360 can fall under a model called “focused deterrence” in criminal justice lingo. It’s a series of actions between law enforcement, community leaders and social service agencies working in unison.
Actions and outcomes are researched and documented.
Taylor also praised the expedited help from City Hall on services.
Clean-up efforts for bulky trash removal are one example and help monitoring some of the more than 8,000 vacant lots in Kansas City.
In the past year, Santa Fe has held two major cleanups with more than 170,000 pounds of trash and debris removed. A third cleanup is being planned.
Weekly, hour-long meetings keep the KC 360 work on track.
The nonprofit organizations that are involved, along with police and city leaders, meet each Thursday at 9 a.m., gathering at the Magis Activity Center of Rockhurst University.
The outreach will continue to grow.
The press conference also underscored a slogan that Kansas Citians will soon be getting through public service announcements, advertising, billboards and repeated by civic and city leadership: “Play Your Part.”
The idea is that everyone, no matter where they live in Kansas City, can and should have a role in preventing violence.
“There is not just one solution, one person or one group that can turn the tide on public safety and violent crime that frankly we’ve been facing for the entirety of my life,” Lucas said.
The development of strategies to draw the support of the business community are underway, Alcine said.
Lucas noted that the $30 million that the city has targeted for crime reduction efforts needs to be matched by investment from businesses.
“There is not just one solution, one person or one group that can turn the tide on public safety and violent crime that frankly, we’ve been facing for the entirety of my life,” said Lucas, who is 39.
The KC 360 initiative to target root causes of violence was modeled after a similar effort in Omaha, which began in 2009.
Willie Barney, who attended the press conference, began Omaha 360 as the CEO and founder of Empowerment Network/Omaha 360.
In Omaha, a “node” strategy of economic development has been used. The focus first has gone to individual nodes, or areas of the city, building them up, and then broadening the influence through connector corridors, Barney said.
He said small businesses worked alongside nonprofits and previously high-crime areas slowly saw the return of cultural entities and now, major investments.
Barney said that the state of Nebraska recently committed nearly $500 million to entrepreneurship, job creation and more housing.
Stressing the need for consistency, Barney said the work must be ongoing. Because setbacks are inevitable.
In early October, a 16-year-old boy was killed in a shooting that shattered the hope that Omaha could go an entire calendar year without having a teenager killed by violence, Barney said.
“It just takes one incident, and it just brings everything back to those people that are doing the work on a daily basis,” he said of the homicide.
And yet, despite upticks in violence attributed to the pandemic, Omaha is on track to see the lowest rates of homicides in nearly 40 years.
“It’s not a straight line,” Barney said. “But it’s about keep pressing, keep coming to the table. Partners come in and they find their path.”
Mary Sanchez is senior reporter for Kansas City PBS/Flatland.