A program to tame KC's culture of violence
The Kansas City Star
On the top floor of the Jackson County Courthouse, a connect-the-dots exercise is paving the way for an all-out anti-crime initiative.
Four police officers, two crime analysts and a university research team have been working for months on intricate models showing who in Kansas City is known or suspected to be involved in criminal activity, and who is in their network.
The models appear as geometrical drawings, with lines and dots illustrating how complex a task lies ahead. That the work is taking place on the same courthouse floor where the Jackson County prosecutor and staff have their offices is an indication that law enforcement means business.
In May, leaders announced that Kansas City would be rolling out an anti-crime initiative called the KC No Violence Alliance, or KC NoVA. The University of Missouri-Kansas City’s criminology department would be involved, and the initiative would enlist the cooperation of faith leaders, social service workers and others.
Little was heard of KC NoVA for the next six months, but that didn’t mean work wasn’t being done.
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté assigned personnel to work full time on the initiative, with Capt. Joe McHale as the project manager. Working with a team led by Andrew Fox, an assistant professor of criminology at UMKC, they have been designing models to predict who is most likely to become involved in violent crime.
Police and prosecutors will let potential offenders know they’re being watched, and a wrong move will result in severe penalties. They’ll propose alternatives to criminal activity.
They’ll also talk to associates of criminals, such as family members, girlfriends and business associates. If someone in the network appears likely to fall into the criminal lifestyle, caseworkers will steer them toward better alternatives and help them with transportation, housing, mentoring or other needs.
The approach is called “focused deterrence.” Other cities have used it to reduce murders and violent crimes. In a recent blog post, Forté told Kansas Citians, “I anticipate that you will see a significant reduction in homicides and aggravated assaults in 2013 and the years to come thanks to KC NoVA’s efforts.”
That’s a bold prediction coming from the police chief of a city that routinely witnesses more than 100 homicides a year.
“In certain communities there are cultures of violence that are very hard to interrupt,” Fox said. “Only a long-term, data-driven strategy will interrupt them.”
Kansas City has been crippled by a culture of violence for far too long. The No Violence Alliance is a serious effort to change that. It deserves a sustained commitment from law enforcement and the community.