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Kansas City introduces another plan to combat growing crime

By Margaret Stafford The Associated Press

KANSAS CITY (AP) — Kansas City officials on Wednesday introduced another attempt to reduce crime in the city, with a focus on increasing community involvement, breaking down barriers between groups, and helping those involved in criminal activity find a new path.

The effort, called Reform Project KC, will emphasize four “pillars” of prevention, intervention, enforcement and administrative reforms, Mayor Quinton Lucas said at a news conference attended by dozens of representatives of city and area departments, prosecutors' offices and some community organizers.

The plan announced is a framework that will be updated as officials receive more community input, he said.

“We recognize that we can no longer operate in silos and we are taking this conversation directly to the community,” Lucas said.

The announcement comes as the city is on track to set a homicide record, with 146 so far this year. The highest number in recent years was 151 in 2017.

The effort was immediately criticized by some community activists and civil rights organizations who said they had not been invited to participate during discussions that Lucas said had been ongoing most of the year.

Gwendolyn Grant, president of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, said traditional civil rights organizations declined an invitation to appear at what she called a “photo op.”

“We should have been engaged from the inception,” Grant said. “(The plan) was not built on any substantive form of collaboration and to present this as something that is going to help is premature.”

Civil rights organizations have been pushing for months for the resignation or firing of Police Chief Rick Smith over concerns about police interactions with minority and poor residents. Grant said no effort to engage the community will succeed until Smith is no longer chief. He has said he does not intend to resign.

And 82-year-old Ester Holzendorf, executive director of Sankofa for K.C., said she was skeptical after she hearing so many similar plans during her decades of community activism.

“I didn't hear action steps, I didn't hear anyone saying this is how we are going to engage these entities on a daily basis,” she said. “The people who suffer want someone to invite them in not after the policy is written but to sit at the table and help write the policy.”

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker acknowledged that civil rights organizers don't trust officials who are pushing the plan. She said people who hold government office need to engage community groups “in a real way” that includes a leadership role in order for the plan to have sustainability.

Lucas said he believed the new plan is different because it involves more civic engagement, including plans for officials to walk through neighborhoods and meet with neighborhood groups who have not been part of the process. He said he will work with anyone because he is tired of Kansas City's reputation as a violent, unsafe city.

“It gets old just being frustrated every morning," Lucas said. “It gets old saying Kansas City has always been dangerous. (Record numbers of murders) have been a story most every year of my life,” said the mayor, who grew up in the city.

The police chief said his department meets with prosecutors and others on Wednesdays to discuss every fatal and non-fatal shooting to determine how to reduce the violence. Social advocates who can help those involved in crime will be added to the meetings, he said.

“But to those who are committing the violence, those who are actively shooting in the city, our department is engaged and we know who you are,” Smith said. “And we are working tirelessly to make sure you don't commit violence in this city.”