Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 homicides

Barring more tragedy today or tomorrow, Kansas City will wrap up 2011 with 114 homicides. Whether we have 114 or 75, that’s still too many. As I’ll discuss more in a bit, police can’t prevent many of these killings, but it is our duty to quickly apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice. So far, 69 homicides this year have been cleared, with an additional six cases awaiting review at the prosecutor’s office. That’s about a 66 percent clearance rate, which is better than this time last year, when we were below 50 percent.

We’re analyzing every single homicide within 24 hours of occurrence. Since I have taken office as chief, I have gone to every homicide scene but two. We’ve noticed increased citizen cooperation in solving these crimes. On Christmas Eve, as a matter of fact, a citizen came forward with a great description of the suspect who killed Darnell Pearson at 43rd and Harrison. With that description, police were able to apprehend the suspect within minutes. Had that witness not stepped forward, the killer very likely would still be on the loose.

I also would like to thank the members of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department – the officers and the support staff – who give their all every day to find and stop those who perpetrate crime in our city. Police cannot solve homicides alone, however. Community participation is vital, as is the cooperation of others in the criminal justice system. The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office is working with us on our hot spot initiative (more on that to come soon), and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department also is assisting us with resources in crime hot spots. Additionally, City Codes Enforcement and the City Manager’s office have been very helpful in their willingness to demolish unstable structures where criminal activity persistently takes place. I thank them for making the removal of these buildings a priority.

But many of these killings law enforcement can never prevent. In October of this year, Kansas City had just two homicides, but in November there were 17. KCPD did nothing substantially different from one month to the next, yet murders increased more than eight-fold. Additionally, 12 out of November’s 17 homicides took place within structures – mostly residences – and 4 were in cars. The only homicide that happened outside was when police shot and killed a homicide suspect who was firing at them. I point this out not only to say there is little police can do alone to prevent many of the city’s murders (we can’t be at your dinner table when a fight breaks out) but also to show that these crimes aren’t random. In the vast majority of our homicides, the victims and suspects knew each other.

The average, law-abiding Kansas City resident needn’t be fearful. Lifestyle has a significant impact on your chance of becoming a victim. If you are involved in criminal activity or associate with those who are, you are more likely to be killed or shot. Kansas City had more than 1,000 aggravated assaults with firearms in 2011, accounting for more than 500 injuries. Had those bullets landed a little differently, they, too, could have been homicides. But like homicide victims, many of those shot in 2011 were leading very risky lifestyles.

Many of Kansas City’s killings are simply the results of poor conflict resolution skills. Detectives have identified motives in 69 of this year’s homicides. Of those 69, nearly a third – 22 – were arguments. A simple dispute in which someone ended up dead.

Reducing violent crime will require the involvement of the entire community. Police can’t do it alone. We greatly appreciate those residents, business owners, faith leaders, organizations and others who have partnered with us in these prevention and apprehension efforts. As for what police can do, the hot-spot policing strategy is something I knew needed to be done immediately, but there will be other, more long-term strategies coming into place in the future.

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