Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Kansas City: Worst Crime Wave in a Decade?

The news might not be spreading around the United States. Kansas City doesn't get the kind of national media attention that places like New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington DC get and it certainly doesn't have the same type of crime these cities experience. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop the state of Missouri from having a crime ranking of #15 out of 50. Which puts it two places above its population ranking of #17 out of 50. About par?

Not on your life.

Just looking at first quarter statistics, while most non-violent crimes are down quarter over quarter (eg, burglary, robbery, etc), violent crime is on the rise including murder (28%) and aggravated assault (with a gun 34% and other 26%) (Kansas City Star). Drive by shootings are up 486% since 2001.

And the year isn't over yet. Year to date murder rate for 2005 is 66 and we're only at the end of seven months. That's an average of 9.4 per month. In 2002 it was 7.2, 2003 and 2004 7.5. At its height in 1994, the murder rate had reached 11.3 murders per month and racked up 142 for the year. That's at the height of the cocaine gang turf wars.

Two interesting observations: 1) the city police do not keep or at least report "drug related crimes" or "gang related crimes" statistics on their site; 2) the local media has only ever once referred to a specific murder or crime issue as "drug" related. I'm unable to tell if this is a case of lazy reporting, disinterest or because they can't get confirmation out of the police departments.

Missouri and its major cities, St Louis and Kansas City, are suffering under a surfeit of Meth Labs, Mexican drug runners and the inevitable "unintended consequences" of NAFTA where the direct transportation link from Mexico to Kansas City, via train and truck that passes across the borders largely uninterdicted, has boosted imports of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and meth. Kansas City has achieved a reputation of producing highly pure meth, called "ice", locally which is the only thing keeping the Mexican drug runners from cornering that market as well.

Every few nights there is a report of mysterious shootings of people in their cars at certain street corners in the city. Anyone with any knowledge of the city knows where this is and what it was about. Drugs, turf, gangs, unpaid tabs, you name it, it's going down in the inner city. And the media? They simply report another shooting and "victims". No follow up reporting. No indepth review of the current situation. No discussion about Mexican drug runners owning the inner city or the youth in the run down inner city neighbor hoods involved in drive bys, beat downs, car chases, etc. Nada.

At most what has been reported is spectacular raids against some of the largest meth labs in the city and state. Although, these are reported alone and I have yet to hear a news agency report on the number of meth labs closed down over the last year or last three years. Would it surprise you beyond belief that Missouri is THE state with the LARGEST NUMBER OF METH LABS SEIZED OR CLOSED in the last five years running? In 2004 alone the DEA reports 2786 labs, dump sites and chem/glassware/equipment seizures for the state of Missouri. Easily twice that of our "nearest competitors" Iowa 1322 and Tennesse 1319.

2005 is only looking slightly better with 1049 seizures year to date. Unfortunately, the slow down in take downs may be more closely related to available resources for police as opposed to a true drop in Meth labs. Why is Missouri one of the places that Meth makers and dealers want to open business? Because neighboring states have taken a proactive stance and reacted more quickly to change laws and requirements for purchasing Sudafed and other over the counter psuedophedrine medicines making it harder for meth manufacturers to operate in these states. So, what do they do? Simply pick up and move to a state with more conducive laws.

Missouri has been lagging by at least a year behind other states in implementing these laws. Right now, the most Missouri has is a limit on the number of boxes that can be purchased by an individual. I personally witnessed how easily it is to get around this limitation. At a local retail chain last year, I had went to the store after working late. As I walked to the check out counter, which only had two registers open, two youg men walked ahead of me, both carrying four boxes of Sudafed apiece. One went to the first open register and the second went to the register I was going to. They both made their purchases and went out of the store.

I only had one purchase and was quickly done. I noticed that neither of the clerks had looked to see who these men were or if they were together. As I walked outside, I watched both men get into the same van, driven by another man. It doesn't take a genius to know what these men were up to. I tried to take down the license number and description to report to the police, but the van was long gone before I could get more than the first two numbers off the plate.

That's a scene that repeats itself thousands of times in the metro area and around Missouri. If we're going to beat this thing, the state, city and citizens are going to have to get more pro-active with laws and vigilence.

Meth labs aren't just in bad areas of the city. Many of the largest and most prolific labs have been found in the rural areas and small suburbs with small police departments. Some have been in very affluent neighborhoods. One recent seizure took place in Overland Park in the home owned by an elderly woman whose son was living there and maintaining a very active lab.

Just as drug crimes go up, so do the violent crimes.

What is the Kansas City government doing about it? Not much if the statistics are anything to go by. The KCPD Strategic Plan's number one "weakness" is...drum roll please..."Limited Resources and Unlimited Demands", followed closely by "Instability in Department Funding", a euphamism for under staffed and under funded. Is it any wonder that the city police have found creative, though legal, methods to get additional funding for their department? And what are the legislators down in Jefferson City concerned about? Money and property seizures generating revenue for police departments present a "conflict of interest".

Here's an idea, the state, county and cities of Missouri could actually fund the state, county and city law enforcement agencies better and it wouldn't be an issue.

What about the Kansas City budget? It doesn't take a financial analyst to know that the yearly budget is not determined by actual population, crimes or needs but on a fixed percentage year over year which doesn't appear to have any correlation with the above mentioned issues.

For instance:

  • 2003-2004 Budget $146 million
  • 2004-2005 Budget $163 million
  • 2005-2006 Budget $172 million

    Most of which was spent on salaries and benefits:

  • 2003-2004 $118 million
  • 2004-2005 $124 million
  • 2005-2006 $129 million

    Which might lead one to believe there was a substantial increase in full time employees (ie, patrol officers, detectives, investigators, administraters, etc). The budget says otherwise:

  • 2003-2004 2070
  • 2004-2005 2078
  • 2005-2006 2083

    According to the 2004 annual report, that included 1299 officers from the commander down to patrol officers and 651 administrative/civillian positions. This means that the salary allocations were simply annual raises and increase cost of benefits (ie, healthcare, dental care, retirement, etc) for existing officers, commanders and administrative personnel averaging $2564/year (give or take $200 depending on salaries for the few positions added) or $213/mo depending on salary and benefit package. It might even relate to overtime, though this line is not identified separately in the executive summary/

    Another sizable increase from 2003 to 2005 was "capital improvements" (ie, repairing or building new facilities). This appears to have gone towards consolidating the city's two main holding facilities for prisoners with an increase from 2.7 million to 15 million and then 16 million in 2005. These repairs are being paid for by the 1/4 cent Public Safety Sales Tax(pdf) passed in 2002 which accounted for $16 million in additional funds for the 2005 budget. This at the same time that the over all budget only increased by $9 million which means funds from the general city budget were down since law enforcement grants remained the same.

    While funds allocated for patrols and community based policing increased by $6 million, a good start but still not for additional officers and probably related more to grants for community projects and salaries, funds for "violent crime investigation" was decreased by $700k and "Narcotics and Vice" got a measely $200k increase (probably barely enough to cover raises). All the while the murder, aggravated assault and drug crimes are on the rise.

    What are we doing about it?

    Chief Jim Corwin responded to Christine Vendel of the KC Star that he was increasing man power in the aggravated assault squad in hopes of heading off crimes that later lead to murder. Unfortunately, with the way the budget was prepared and the number of personnel, this doesn't mean that four "new" officers were hired so much as it means man power was shifted from another area, probably also stretched thin. And the police and government are asking why the crime rate is so high since unemployment, poverty and education trends don't seem to be changing at the same rates. The reason is allegedly "mysterious and unknown".

    Personally, I think these folks are blind. Officials are claiming that many murders are simply "angry people" and another official is pointing to the "CCW" (carry concealed weapon). Unfortunately, the areas and victims of these crimes don't point to people with legal permits to carry, but illegal weapons and other increased crimes. Officials also claim that KC doesn't have "gangs like LA or New York" even though drug crime is rampant and they admit that there are "turf wars", but simultaneously point out that much of the crime appears to be "youths" who are simply angy at "other youths".

    In which case, the crime statistics showing that the largest section of the population that are victims of homicide, aggravated assault and robbery are young black men between the ages of 17 and 24 with the agest 25 to 34 being the next largest age group. Not that it means they all belong to gangs. However, one might question how 17 to 24 year olds are coming by weapons in this city? I'll give you a few hints and they probably don't include things like gun shows or legal fire arms sells and probably are closely related to drug traffickers who always seem to bring with them a surplus of weapons that are sold on the street and local pawn shops not people obtaining CCWs.

    The city also claims that it is "focusing officers and commanders on "hot spots"" based on weekly data and concentrating drug investigations in the highest crime areas (which seems to me means they are admitting without admitting that a lot of crimes are drug related).

    Other initiatives include "Youth Summits" and meetings with community leaders where Corwn and Barnes have both claimed to be having "meaningful discussions" (Kansas City Star July 17).

    Well, here is some meaningful discussion. First of all, the budget for law enforcement looks like it was created by the city accounting office using year over year incremental percentage increases with little if any input from department heads at the police department or based on actual types of crime or problem areas needing additional resources. The issue with the consolidation of the municipal and city jails is not likely to have been initiated by the police department but came from consultants that recommended it would be cheaper to run one facility with less personnel, administrative assistance, maintenance and utility costs. That's nice. Someone was looking out for the budget and maybe it will streamline operations and save money, but unfortunately it doesn't do a lot for the crime rate. In fact, as the rate of crime and the population increases, one hopes that the planners for this new great facility are projecting the correct number of cells required or we are going to be in the same position as many other cities: releasing more criminals on the street to keep the space available for "high value" criminals.

    Let's get back to the budget without department head input. This is what businesses in "jeopardy" do when they are desperate to hold down the costs in order to save a sinking profit line. They push out a number and tell the departments "that's your budget, live with it and within it", regardless of rising costs in the industry or expanding business or industry regulations and changes that require additional personnel to handle. That's what they've done to the city police department. Of course, I don't want to put all the blame on the city. Chief Corwin is new and his previous job was over Human Resources for the department. I'm thinking, in meaningful discussions, with all the crime statistics that track every area and the number of personnel, Chief Corwin would be more than "discussing" the possibility of "adding" personnel Moving more assets immediately to affected areas would be an excellent idea.

    Then again, who am I except some citizen who has to live here?

    Community policing? Excellent idea, but the chief seems to be stuck on using or rejecting programs used by Chicago and Milwaukee, cities in the region that have similar problems and used things like cameras. This may not be his fault entirely for not "thinking outside the box", but may be a result of the city council and other politico/financial issues that are constraining what kind of ideas that would be "inexpensive" yet "effective".

    If the chief really wanted to get things done around here and the city was a little more cognitive about the crime areas and reasons why, they might try the New York City method of "Broken Windows". In other words, get your cops to start rounding up every jay walker, unlicensed drivers, etc and run them through the NCIC and local networks to see if they're wanted. Try picking up the bail jumpers and people with bench warrants. This might take a few more resources, but it would be a definite plus towards preventing other crimes. The city, metro and county judicial system will have to get on the ball and start prosecuting people quickly to move them through the system and keep them from clogging up the jails.

    Of course, all of this has to occur while working with the community to clean up areas, report crimes and information to the police. And it has to be a major focus.

    In the meantime, Kansas City is moving forward with it's plan for a new Arena and entertainment center downtown. Another "no genius to figure out" moment, said arena and center are supposed to bring in huge numbers of visitors and possibly increase residency in the hitherto languishing area. I am hoping the city has taken this into account for future law enforcement budget and personnel needs based on estimated number of visitors and not just on some hopped up percentage based on expected revenue or accounting office standard increase of living percentages. One might also consider cleaning up certain areas of the city *hint, hint* before the city inflicts our rising crime on would be visitors and scares off the intended revenue generaters.

    I don't see any of this in the discussions about the new arena and funding. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea that KCMO might actually improve its downtown area and attract new revenue making business. Kudos for the idea. But that doesn't mean the city can neglect our current problems or skimp on the future of law enforcement needs in the city.

    Its time the city does more than throw its hands up and claim it doesn't know why crime is so high and thus, doesn't know how to combat it. Let's get real. Drugs in this city are climbing. Poverty stricken areas stay poverty stricken and the schools in those areas stink with over 35% (as high as 44%) drop out rates. Jobs brought in by the Arena and entertainment district might go a long way, but its going to require educated people and a public that feels safe enough to walk around. It's going to take this city addressing its rising crime rates effectively. It's going to take more than head banging and hair pulling. It's going to take more than working existing police officers to death or early retirement or simply leaving to go to suburban police departments where the pay and benefits are just as good, the crime is lower and the shifts are really four 10 hours or five 8 hours instead of five 12 or 14 hour shifts.

    It's going to take thinking outside the box, a willingness to review assetts and move them despite political angst from neighboring districts, a better budget process that includes department heads having input next year, and, the next time you do a SWOT plan the department might actually consider doing one that relates to crime rates, reduction of and policing. This one is good for policy wonks and human resource issues, but it's pretty obvious that it was driven by a police chief whose background is Human Resources and not a department concerned about the crime in their precincts.

    Unless, of course, the city and police department are happy with 42% clearance rate of violent crimes, which is pretty disgraceful if understandable based on resources, and sky rocketing violent crimes.

    We're on track to have the worst crime wave in a decade and the city seems to be acting like it's business as usual. The question is, what's it going to take to get them to set up, take notice and change how they're doing business?

    Does somebody have to die on the steps of city hall with a kilo of meth in their pockets?


    John of Argghhh! said...

    I do *so* love it when they blame concealed carry, with absolutely no data to support the linkage.

    Such as arrested CC permittees, or even decent anecdotal evidence from perps that "Yeah, I shoot first now 'cuz I know my vics might be packing, and I gotta reduce my exposure, man."

    Of course, that would require apprehending the perps.

    Barb said...

    Kat - the answer to your final question is probably Yes, unfortunately.

    Unfortunately, small meth labs are obviously easy to set up and hard to locate by law enforcement. You noticed the men buying the OTC drugs, the clerks were clueless. Why should they bother - they get paid the same either way.

    The concept of Personal Responsibility is sadly missing, and without it instilled in every citizen, this kind of drug/underworld event will keep right on happening.

    John - I'm like you on the CCW thing, it's just another stupid trick of the MSM to try to blame anything on CCW. Feh!

    Beth said...


    I have to admire your fire for wanting things to change in Kansas City.

    I moved to Kansas City in 1971 to go to college. There were drug murders, gangs and not enough police then.

    The politics here - the City Council, the Mayor, the Kansas City Star - all of them combine to make the city less and less enjoyable.

    A lot of it has to do with political correctness - the police can't say that most of the murdered young men are black and hispanic young men - murdering each other.

    As for saving downtown - ha - Kansas City 'leaders' have been trying to do that for as long as I can remember - while other cities have thriving downtowns and midtown areas, Kansas City just politics itself to death.

    And to depend on Sprint to help out - not a good idea!!

    Cranky Puppy said...

    There really are some simple solutions to many of these problems. Treating allergy sufferers like criminals isn't a very good one, if you ask me. Search as I might, I can find no constitutional authority for the "War on (some) Drugs." It achieves nothing but the destruction of civil liberties and increased violent crime. Legalize drugs and you solve all the *real* problems related to them, i.e. shootings, etc. When was the last time you heard of Coca Cola pulling a drive-by on Pepsi? Or GM on Ford? But make cola or cars illegal and see what it does to prices and distribution of those items.

    Sometimes, we make things unnecessarily hard on ourselves.

    kc-ga@hotmail.com said...

    Fresh Idea:

    Why not depend LESS on government to make your home and neighborhoods safer?

    Neighborhood 'Watch' signs are a mild deterrent to most of todays' perps, but a live, mobile, safety patrol is much better and gets seen in more places!

    The Alliance of the Guardian Angels are now establishing an official Chapter and home office in the Greater Kansas City area.

    They are volunteers and therefore there is no funding issue. Of course, it is harder to get people to participate for free, but the ones that do will be true Champion Samaritans.
    I Dare to Care™ enough to volunteer in helping them. I am their KC Training Director.
    Though the Guardian Angels started with (what at times seemed like) more heart than brains, they have a 540 page manual/syllabus which has been developed over the last 19 years. They are in many countries and have over 100 Chapters worldwide.
    With the problems that Kansas City has, I think it is great that they have came to our area for a grassroots operation of well orchestrated and operated public safety patrols. Graduate Patrol Members will be proficient and certified with first aid/CPR, verbal judo (diffusing problems with proper attitude, speech and posture/body language), self-defense, situational awareness, logistical concepts and teamwork.
    AS most cities with a chapter will tell you, "We are not vigilantes, we are a public safety patrol and we are here to help!"

    Contact Jerry Mael at 816.283.8554 or 660.354.2361 or email me at kc-ga@hotmail.com


    Happy New Year to everyone and be safe!!

    Anonymous said...

    Your local KC chapter of the Guardian Angels are currently performing security patrols in the Waldo and Brookside areas.
    If you really want change, you have to make it happen. Give us a call and donate 4 hours a week for this outstanding cause.
    Performing security patrols on a REGULAR basis is the most effective way to deter crime. We need more volunteers to accomplish this.
    Contact 'Bear' - Local Chapter Leader at 816.797.1297 for more details on how you can assist and be a part of our team.

    David Richy said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.