Friday, January 17, 2014

Solving and preventing homicides calls for community cooperation

Today’s Kansas City Star features a front-page story about our department’s homicide clearance rate. The raw numbers show that we cleared 55 percent of the city’s 106 homicides in 2013, but the article does a good job of pointing out how nuanced of a number that is. According to federal reporting guidelines, for instance, we have a 69 percent clearance rate because we cleared 15 homicides in 2013 that happened in prior years.

We still have a lot of work to do in clearing homicide cases, but I am proud of the progress we’ve made. In 2010, we cleared just 42 percent of that year’s killings. Three years later, that rate is up to 55 percent. I expect those numbers to continue to climb. The single greatest factor in solving a homicide is community cooperation. As Homicide Sergeant Martin Cobbinah said so well in the Star article, “We rise or fall with their help. When we’re solving a lot of cases, it’s because we’re getting a lot of help from the community.”

I have made improving relations between police and the community one of my top priorities as Chief of Police. It works hand-in-hand with my other top priority: reducing violent crime. While 45 percent of 2013’s homicides are technically not cleared, our detectives know who the suspects are in the majority of them. But witnesses often won’t assist with prosecution. The more we get those witnesses – and the community as a whole – to trust us, the more cases get solved. We can eliminate the desire for vigilante justice that turns murder suspects into victims. When the community understands that police can help bring real justice, the needless tit-for-tat violence that endangers innocent bystanders will decline. We are working to bring that understanding through programs like the Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KC NoVA). This program targets our city’s most violent offenders – the ones who insist on perpetuating this cycle of violence – for aggressive prosecution. For those less-violent offenders on the periphery, it offers them a way out through support and social services.

I often hear that police need to do something to prevent our city’s homicides. We are. Through initiatives like KC NoVA, Hot Spot policing, the Area Command Unit, the Lethality Assessment Protocol for domestic violence victims and even the Police Athletic League, we are working to reduce the violence.

But there are some murders we are helpless to stop. In many cases, the suspect and victim know each other, they get angry, and they use a gun to solve their problems. We can’t be there every time that happens. Fights that end people’s lives are over everything from drugs to small amounts of money to a perceived feeling of disrespect. Until a cultural change brings about a greater respect for life and a better way of solving problems and managing anger, many of these killings will continue, regardless of what police do. Again, this is where we need the community’s help. Parents, educators, churches, businesses, the criminal justice system and others must work together to instill these values in upcoming generations. Petty disagreements – even serious arguments – are not worth taking another’s life. There are far more effective ways of resolving problems.

As in so many other things in police work, the community is the key component to solving and preventing homicides. The members of this department and I look forward to helping you create a safer city.

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