Thursday, August 2, 2012

City's youth programming brings peace to the Plaza

Nights at the Country Club Plaza have been quiet so far this summer. But not far away, a youthful crowd is anything but quiet. They’re having swim parties, playing video games, dancing to a professional DJ, learning moves from hip hop instructors, participating in 3-on-3 basketball and Xbox tournaments, watching movies, using computers and having snacks and drinks.

This past weekend alone (July 27-28), 1,050 high-schoolers went to the Brush Creek Community Center to participate in Club KC, a free summer weekend hangout for young people presented by the City of Kansas City. Another 420 middle-schoolers gathered at the Gregg Klice and Tony Aguirre Community Centers last weekend. Those numbers have steadily increased since the City launched the program June 22.

This matters to police because this time last year and in 2010, we were devoting considerable resources to keeping the Plaza safe. Large crowds of young people gathered there, intimidating patrons, vandalizing property and occasionally erupting in violence. We have not had any major incidents on the Plaza this summer and no problems with rowdy crowds. This can be attributed to several things: curfews imposed last year and increased police presence. But I believe the opportunity the City is providing youth is the primary reason.

Club KC has shown that if you give young people (it’s open to ages 12-18) a place to go, they’ll go there and be constructive. Our officers provide security at Club KC events, and there have been no problems at them.

It takes resources for Parks and Recreation to put on this programming, but it’s difficult to argue how well it’s working. How much more money would it cost to put a sizeable police presence on the Plaza every weekend? How much tax revenue would the City lose if residents stopped patronizing businesses there out of fear? A small investment in community centers and their programming saves both the KCPD and the entire city a lot in the long run.

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