Monday, March 24, 2014

Legislative remedies are needed to address gun violence

The below, which I wrote with Mayor Sly James, also is published as an As I See It column in today's Kansas City Star:

We often are asked what we’re doing to combat violent crime, and why we seem to have more than other cities of similar size. We think that is a fair question and want to assure the community that we are doing everything in our power to stop the bloodshed.  Our long-term efforts range from the Turn the Page KC third grade reading initiative, to the Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KCNoVA), a program with local, state and federal partners that targets the city’s most violent offenders for aggressive prosecution and offers minor offenders social services so they can change their ways.

But there are things beyond our power that would significantly reduce violent crime in Kansas City. We stand united in our conviction that something must be done to address the issue of illegal guns. Of the 106 homicides in our city last year, 90 were committed with a handgun. We can’t alleviate the issue of gun violence until we address the issue of people who have guns that shouldn’t, and that is something that must be done in the Missouri Legislature.  To that end, we applaud the efforts of Representative Brandon Ellington, who filed House Bill 2159 last week.

House Bill 2159 addresses two badly needed legislative remedies that have proven remarkably effective in reducing gun violence in other cities nationwide: universal background checks and mandatory reporting of lost or stolen guns. These provisions promote responsible gun ownership by law-abiding residents while preventing firearms from falling into the hands of those who would use them to hurt or kill others.

Did you know that currently either of us could meet you in a parking lot and legally sell you a gun with no record of the transaction and no background check required at all? Or you could go to a gun show and do the very same? A study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research published in last month’s Journal of Urban Health found the 2007 repeal of the Missouri law requiring a background check on all firearm purchases has contributed to an additional 55 to 63 murders each year from 2008 to 2012. We’d venture to say most of those occurred in Kansas City and St. Louis (another city plagued by gun violence disproportional to its population). There is a clear correlation, and states that have universal background checks have fewer homicides. It just makes sense. Multiple studies have shown between 85 and 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks, including 74 percent of National Rifle Association members.

Mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms is another tool that could reduce our city’s gun violence. This deters gun trafficking and can help solve crimes. Police may trace a gun used in a crime to its original owner, but that person can claim it was stolen to hide his or her involvement in the crime or in a gun trafficking scheme. 

Chicago implemented a mandatory stolen firearm reporting law last year and watched its previously record-breaking homicide numbers plummet to the lowest level in 50 years.

Legislation like this would do so much to make Missouri’s metropolitan areas safer.

A large focus of legislative efforts pertaining to guns has been the unconstitutional Senate Bill 613. That bill would severely undermine the ability to solve and prevent crimes and seeks to nullify all federal gun laws in Missouri. Although the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause prevents this, and it was vetoed last year, legislators continue to push it through with little concern for the dangerous impact it will have on cities. A provision of SB 613 would make it a crime for anyone to enforce federal gun laws. This would essentially require Kansas City Police to arrest the FBI, ATF and other federal agents with whom they work every day. This legislation would destroy KC NoVA. It could stop the federal prosecution of felons in possession of firearms, which has put so many violent offenders behind bars over the years. It would halt the investigation and prosecution of hundreds of cases, leaving violent criminals on the streets. We cannot emphasize enough how damaging and dangerous this law would be if passed, and we urge residents to reach out to their legislators to ask them to stop it and support House Bill 2159 instead.

We vow to work together to reduce gun violence in Kansas City. But we need the help of the Missouri Legislature to make a significant impact on the safety of our community.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Cost cutting and consolidation measures

I take seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of tax-payer dollars. That’s why we are moving to consolidate audit services with the City’s Audit Department. Our Internal Audit Unit manager position was eliminated today, and the three officers assigned to that unit will be moved to other places on the department. This unit has done an admirable job through the years of raising accountability and improving our department’s efficiency. We are facing a $5.5 million deficit in this current fiscal year. The vast majority of our costs are for pay and benefits, so there are limited opportunities for cost cutting.

Consolidating audit services was an obvious choice. The City Auditor’s Office has worked with us on many occasions, providing an independent review and oversight of our operations. I trust they will be able to continue to do so. 

Additionally, I eliminated a director position over our Victim Support Division. While the Division’s work is very important, it’s a rather small group, and a director-level position was not necessary to oversee it. A sergeant will now take the helm there. And as I wrote earlier, we’re closer than ever before to consolidating detention operations with the City and Jackson County.

I’ve also ordered a review of an efficiency study that was done prior to my tenure as chief. I want to ensure we have taken all the steps possible to run the most streamlined operation we can.

Finally, we have put a hiring freeze on all non-sworn positions.

We are not stagnant. We are constantly looking for opportunities to cut costs, be that in the forms of consolidating, outsourcing or eliminating. But we must do so prudently. Wantonly eliminating critical resources would come at the expense of the city’s safety. I pledge to do the most we can with the funds we have.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Preventing domestic violence in our own families

Did you know that police families are two to four times more likely to experience domestic violence than other American families, according to studies? The nature of our work is stressful on any family. Police work long, odd hours, and they see some of the most disturbing things our society has to offer. But that does not make it OK for an officer to be violent toward his or her spouse or children.

Worse yet, studies of some police departments have found that officers will cover up for their colleagues who have abused a family member, such as not filing a report. It is our job to protect community members, and the family member of a colleague is entitled to just as much protection as anyone else.

Although this is not, to my knowledge, presently an issue at our department, I am very concerned about the well-being of our officers and their families. To ensure domestic violence does not become a problem within the KCPD family, I am requiring all law enforcement members to undergo domestic violence training developed by the Institute for Family Violence Studies at Florida State University. This training is targeted at law enforcement. Some of its goals are: “To support a law enforcement culture that prioritizes prevention efforts and officer/family wellness and also disapproves of officer-committed domestic violence, and to encourage officers to ask for help when they need it before violence occurs.”

As the program states, officers are role models for the communities they serve, and we “must ensure our actions at home are worthy of our oath.” We have taken many steps to reduce and prevent domestic violence city-wide (like the Lethality Assessment Protocol that my predecessor wrote about), and this is another step to do so. Preventing this type of violence begins at home.

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