Thursday, June 16, 2016

KC NoVA is building foundation for change in urban core

As of today, Kansas City has experienced 46 homicides, which is a dozen more than at this point in the past two years. (It is on par, however, with where we were in 2012, so it’s by no means unprecedented.) I am as frustrated by this as anyone in this city. Lives are being lost senselessly.

The responsibility of stopping the violence does not rest solely on the police department, but we must and do play a role. Several people have asked me if the number of homicides means the Kansas City No Violence Alliance has failed. The answer to that is a definitive “no.”

I wrote about KC NoVA’s accomplishments in February, but it bears repeating that KC NoVA isn’t a unit of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. This multi-agency collaboration is currently composed of the KCPD, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, the Missouri Department of Corrections, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the City of Kansas City and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

KC NoVA marks the first time all of these entities have been at the same table – the first time we have shared intelligence and resources. This multi-agency collaboration uses police-related technology and front line patrol and investigative elements; identifies violent networks in Kansas City’s urban core and the membership within each network driving the violence. This gang- and group-related violence network intelligence is stored in the Law Enforcement Resource Center and is available to KCPD personnel and all NoVA partners.

It’s worth noting that KC NoVA only deals in gang- or group-related violence, and not all violent crime in Kansas City. It does not track or try to intervene in violent acts that arise from domestic relationships, arguments gone wrong or narcotics-related violence (although certainly there is overlap between people involved in those types of violence and NoVA clients).

Once those involved in violent criminal networks are identified, the NoVA collaboration works to reach the membership with a message that violence no longer will be tolerated; there is assistance available for those wanting to escape the life of violence; but choosing to remain a member of a violent network that continues its involvement in perpetrating violence in our city will result in certain, swift and severe enforcement actions.

About 67 percent of homicides in our city are associated with the groups NoVA investigates. To put that in perspective, the national homicide rate for all people is 2.2 per 100,000. In Kansas City, it’s about 22.2 per 100,000. But for members of the group NoVA has identified, the homicide rate is 550 per 100,000.

We know we have correctly identified the people who are responsible for the majority of Kansas City’s violent crime. So what are we doing about it? Everyone first must understand it has taken decades and generations for today’s culture of violence in the urban-core to form. That is not going to change overnight or even in two years. With KC NoVA, we are building the foundation for change. The impact of NoVA might not be visible in the homicide numbers right now, but I am confident that the relationships and processes are finally in place to turn the tide of violence. At a recent meeting for the Byrne Project of KC NoVA – which focuses specifically on the Prospect Corridor – a resident stood up and said he’d seen more positive changes in the neighborhood in the last few months than he had in all the years he’d lived there.

NoVA proactively is asking community members to enter into violence prevention contracts when investigators feel there is a risk for retaliatory violence. Patrol officers have been trained and work with NoVA and community partners to interrupt cycles of violence. This has never been done before.

Another example of how we’re fostering positive change is the new partnership we’ve forged with the Missouri Department of Corrections. Through this, we are reaching people who are in prison and on probation and parole. NoVA officers and social workers even are going into prisons and letting inmates know that there is hope to come back into their communities, be productive and leave behind the activities that got them incarcerated.

A key piece of KC NoVA is that social service piece. More than 130 people right now are receiving services from NoVA that range from addiction treatment to job skills training. From just January to May of this year, NoVA provided more than 1,100 job leads to clients. Frankly, I’d rather employ and educate our way out of violent crime than arrest our way out of it.

That’s why NoVA leaders are now in talks with the Kansas City School District to implement after-school programs. The hope is these programs will provide additional educational opportunities while keeping kids from being absorbed into a life of criminal activity. Some may call it extracurricular activities, but we call it future violence prevention.

In addition to strict enforcement, these are the kinds of things NoVA is doing. While homicide rates have risen precipitously in other cities (as yesterday’s report from the National Institutes of Justice shows), they have remained steady here. Of course I want there to be fewer murders and acts of violence, but it’s going to take time to turn around a culture of violence acceptance that has been years in the making. KC NoVA has engaged people from around the city to embark on that change, and I think the fruit it bears will be evident for years to come.

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