Thursday, January 29, 2015

Traffic fatalities are down significantly in Kansas City

Much has been said about the reduced homicide numbers in 2014, but there’s another markedly lower, historically significant statistic in Kansas City that represents more lives saved: traffic fatalities.

There were 48 in 2014, which is the first time that number has been that low since 1994, which also had 48 traffic deaths. We could only find statistics dating back to 1990, and there was not a lower number during that time. Some of our veteran officers believe this could be the lowest number of fatalities in 50 years. Kansas City usually averages 62 to 63 traffic deaths per year. As with homicides, 48 traffic deaths are still too many, representing 48 families who are grieving. One particularly tragic incident happened at the end of 2014 when two young women and three small children in a car all were killed in a crash with a semi-truck on Interstate 435. Our thoughts and prayers are with those they left behind.

But we are making progress. Thirteen fewer families had to grieve the loss of their loved ones to traffic crashes in Kansas City in 2014 than in 2013. In fact, this marks the second year in a row traffic deaths have fallen substantially. There were 72 in 2012, then 61 in 2013, and 48 in 2014. That’s a 33 percent reduction over a two-year period.

There are many different causes for this reduction, but I think some of it can be attributed to the work of our officers. We wanted to try something different to make an impact, so we added a fifth Traffic Enforcement squad in 2014. Enforcement activity was, therefore, much higher. Patrol Division officers not assigned to Traffic Enforcement also stepped up their issuance of traffic citations. Overall, enforcement activity was up about 20 percent, and fatalities were reduced in equal measure. If there had not been tangible, life-saving results, we would have deployed that additional squad of Traffic Enforcement officers elsewhere. I will continue to watch the correlation between enforcement and reduced fatalities for any indications that we should use our resources in another way, but right now they’re doing exactly what we’d hoped they’d do: save lives.

So how does increased enforcement activity lead to reduced fatalities? Consider the statistics from 2014. Of the 48 people killed, excessive speed was a contributing factor in 24 of their deaths. Alcohol was a factor in 19 fatalities, and drugs in 10 fatalities. Other contributing factors to fatal crashes last year included eight sign/signal violations, three people who failed to yield and two lane violations. These all are things we write citations for. The more people we stop who are travelling at excessive speeds, driving recklessly or are intoxicated, then the fewer dangerous drivers are on the road. We hope that citation modifies the driver’s behavior, encouraging them to obey traffic laws in the future.

Seat belts are another major piece of this, as they always are. Last year, Kansas City passed a primary seat belt law, which allowed officers to stop and cite drivers and passengers not wearing their seat belts. Previously, officers could not stop a vehicle just for a seat belt violation. They could issue that ticket in addition to another citation, but lack of a seat belt could not be the cause of the stop. It can now. Major Jim Pruetting, commander of the Traffic Division, told me his officers issued a lot of seat belt tickets (more than 3,200 more than in 2013), and anecdotally, they’re seeing far more people wearing them.

Of the 48 people killed in crashes in 2014, seven were pedestrians, four were motorcyclists and one was a bicyclist. That leaves 36 who were killed in cars. Twenty-three of them, or 64 percent, were not wearing their seat belts.

Kansas City stands out for its reduction in traffic fatalities. The State of Missouri recorded just three fewer traffic deaths in 2014 compared to 2013, and that drop is thanks to Kansas City. Many other places experienced increased fatality crashes.

But like homicides, there is only so much police can do to affect them. It is incumbent on everyone who operates a motor vehicle in Kansas City to drive safely and obey all traffic laws. This truly is a life-saver.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Trend of violence against children is very disturbing

We have had a very disturbing trend of violence against children in the Kansas City metro area lately. These children are among the most vulnerable of our community, and it is everyone's duty to do keep them from harm and to bring about justice for those who have harmed children. Staying silent when a child has been injured or killed is inexcusable cowardice. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has noted this tragic string of violent acts against children in the metro area. She issued a press release this weekend that I wanted to share with you. Several of these cases, like the murder of 14-year-old Alexis Kane and 3-year-old Damiah White and her mother, remain unsolved. Please do the right thing and call the TIPS Hotline if you have any information at 816-474-TIPS (8477).

Disturbing trend of child abuse and death

We have recently seen in our Metro area an alarming and disturbing trend of our children falling prey to horrendous acts of violence, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a prepared statement released today.

These children are an integral part of our community and they are defenseless, innocent and easily injured, Baker continued. Our children have been shot, beaten, burned and abused. Our metro area should not be a dangerous or perilous place for children to reside.

It is our community’s duty to protect them, to look after them. We must secure our weapons, never strike them when angry, get immediate medical care when they are injured, and report, report, report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect. When kids are abused, neglected, in danger, shot, beaten, burned or abused, we should not walk to the police station to help; we should run for help.
Failing to protect these children is society’s greatest failing. We must do better.

What follows is just a partial list of the many recent cases in which child have become victims of violence or neglect:

- Friday, January 16: a 2-year old child is shot inside his south KC home

- Sunday, January 11: 7-year old seriously injured after being struck by gunfire on I-70

- Sunday, January 11: 14-year-old Alexis Kane, was found dead outside a South KC Water Park.

- Friday, January 9: 2-year-old Lorenzo Estrada was beaten and died of his injuries on January 10.

- Thursday, January 8: 7-month-old, J.S., was discovered with burns from injuries occurring earlier in December.

- Wednesday, January 7: 3-year-old T.D. shot inside her KCMO home at 38th and Chestnut.

- Sunday, January 4: 7-month-old Jaquail Mansaw killed inside a KCK home.

- Friday, December 26: 4-year-old boy was struck by gunfire as his home on Hardesty was fired upon.

- Friday, December 12: 2-year-old K.G.K., from Independence, sustained burns.

- Sunday, October 26: 10-year-old Machole Stewart killed inside a KCK home.

- Friday, October 17: 6-year-old Angel Hooper killed outside a South KC gas station.

In addition, we remember 10-year-old Kavyea Curry who was paralyzed from a shooting that also killed his father on Friday, April 19, 2014. A 5-year-old was also in the car. And we remember Damiah White, just 3, who was found murdered in her home during on Friday, August 23, 2013. Her and her mother’s murder remains unsolved. We await your call. There is no statute of limitations on murder.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

KC 2014 homicides lowest since 1972

In 2014, Kansas City, Mo., experienced the lowest number of homicides it has since 1972. There have been 77 recorded homicides in 2014. Keep in mind, this number still could fluctuate. Investigators are waiting on a toxicology report for one person. If someone dies next year from an act of violence that took place this year, it will be added to 2014’s total. (This has happened before, up to 10 years later – someone is injured by a traumatic beating or shooting, and they must receive long-term care. They later pass away from injuries ultimately resulting from their assault.)

The chart below shows the verifiable UCR (Uniform Crime Report numbers submitted annually to the FBI) data we have on Kansas City homicides dating back to 1969. None of these numbers include officer-involved shootings. They are apples-to-apples comparisons. 

While we are pleased with the reductions in these numbers, we know there are still 77 families grieving. We will not give up working for justice for them. Nor will we rest in our efforts to prevent more violent crime from taking place. 

We have done many things to reduce violent crime, but many others have been part of making our city safer. Below are some of our initiatives: 

Our Victim Assistance Unit has gone a long way to ensure violent crime victims and their family members get the support they need and let the justice process take its course, reducing acts of retaliation. The detectives assigned to the unit have offered the victims crisis intervention, criminal justice information and referrals to community services for needs directly resulting from the crime such as shelter, food, clothing, grief and trauma counseling. By far, the most requested service from these victims has been trauma counseling. 

The Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KC NoVA) deserves credit for reducing violent crime while beefing up community support for police. KC NoVA is a partnership begun in 2013 between our department, prosecutors, city government, social services and academia. This program has mapped out the relationships of everyone involved in a violent crime in our city over the last four years. It targets the most violent offenders – those at the epicenters of these criminal networks – for aggressive prosecution. For those less-violent offenders on the periphery of the mapped-out criminal networks, KC NoVA offers them a way out of a criminal lifestyle through support and social services. These offenders have been identified as being 100 times more likely to be a murder victim than the average Kansas City resident. KC NoVA’s Social Services component has assessed hundreds of clients. In partnership with numerous community resources, KC NoVA has provided them with substance abuse treatment, employment assistance, housing services, anger management courses and mental health treatment. Many clients cannot read or write and have received literacy and education assistance. 

The lack of literacy among those in criminal networks highlights the importance of early intervention, and it’s why I consider our Police Athletic League (PAL) an important crime-fighting tool. PAL offers youth the opportunity to interact with police officers in a positive setting while participating in cultural, mentoring and sports programs, with the main emphasis placed on academics. PAL is a non-profit organization staffed by Kansas City Police officers. The officers often get very involved in the lives of the children. They have done everything from driving them to a doctor’s appointment to helping their families get a new furnace when they could not afford one. The impact PAL has had on the lives of our urban-core children, many of whom live in poverty, cannot be overstated. Some of these children have gone on to college with academic and athletic scholarships, attaining careers they never would have thought possible. They also are a new generation of urban-core residents who trust police, and who have brought their family and friends to do so, as well. 

At the beginning of 2014, we also nearly doubled the amount of police personnel who work in hot spots, which are the small areas of the city where the most violent crime occurs. Every officer, detective and sergeant on this department not in an under-cover position now works six nights a year in a “hot spot.” Essentially, this means there is an extra squad of officers in East, Central and Metro Patrol divisions during their busiest nights every week. That’s more than 14,000 hours of additional police service for the residents of our city who are most affected by violent crime, and all of that came from existing resources. 

The fact remains that we cannot do what we do without the community. They are our eyes and ears. The more trust between police and residents, the safer our city is, period. We have amazing support from faith, business and neighborhood leaders. Our officers know that the vast majority of our residents are law-abiding folks who want the violence to stop as much as we do. We have forged some extremely beneficial partnerships with these residents, and they are making their communities safer.

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