By Jeff Fox
Jackson County officials plan to step up efforts to quell violent crime.
The focus will be on the core of Kansas City, but officials stress that’s a means of addressing the problem across the community.
“And it’s not just Kansas City” that’s affected, County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker told county legislators Monday. “Ask Independence if crime in Kansas City has no impact on them.”
For years the county has had the community-backed anti-drug tax, the quarter-cent sales taxes commonly called COMBAT. When voters reauthorized that tax in 2009, the language outlining COMBAT efforts was broadened to include violent crime. Now, with a surplus in that fund in hand, officials have a four-part strategy:
• Keep funding current COMBAT programs, everything from the well-known DARE drug-use prevention program to the Jackson County Drug Task Force. It also pays for much of the prosecutor’s office because of the prevalence of drug-related crime.
• Ask local organizations to submit new plans to stem violence. The county has set aside $500,000 and could issue up to 10 grants. Current programs wouldn’t get less money, but officials want new ideas.
“We don’t want to expand those programs. ... We want to go ahead and think outside the box,” said County Executive Mike Sanders.
The county is using the same process it would to hire a vendor or buy a dump truck: It’s putting out “requests for proposal,” and in the coming weeks will review them and see which ones, if any, merit funding. They said they’re looking for measurable results and will have programs audited from the outside.
The plan is to “invest in whatever creative ideas are out there,” Sanders said.
• Add a prosecutor in Peters Baker’s office to work cases through the Kansas City No Violence Alliance. The focus on the urban core, she said, has worked in other major cities.
“It is an evidence-based approach to reduce crime,” she said.
• Add a prosecutor to focus on “weaponry-related cases.” Specifically, Peters Baker said, 87 percent of homicides on Kansas City involve guns. Many residents regularly hear gunfire in their neighborhoods at night, and parents often are afraid to let their children play in the yard, she said.
“It is our reality. It is absolutely our reality,” she said.
She favors the idea floated recently of a separate court for gun-related crimes, but she said that’s less important than committing more resources overall to the problem.
“I’ve made a commitment that gun crimes must be addressed with a renewed effort,” she said.