Kansas City No Violence Alliance program: Helping public safety or not?

Chief Forte, who's retiring, championed program

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Violent crime is up in Kansas City.

The number of police officers on the street is down and response times for calls have increased.

The 41 Action News Investigators first exposed those problems in March after going through hundreds of KCPD records.

One KCPD special program designed to address violent crime is the No Violence Alliance or NoVA.

Chief Darryl Forte, who retires Saturday, has championed this program, designed to target repeat offenders and their groups including gangs.

An example of gang violence happened two years ago on May 31, 2015, shattering the peace of an early Sunday morning.

More than 20 bullets were fired into a home at 67th and Walrond; investigators later determined it was gang related.

The only victim was 3-year-old Amorian Hale, who died in his home.

The crime was so awful, Kansas City Mayor Sly James came to the scene.

"I don't know how you can be anything but disgusted and sad," James said.

To specifically address Kansas City's violent crime, NoVA was created as a community collaboration of local, state and federal law enforcement. NoVA was first put into action in 2013.

The idea is to specifically interact with repeat violent offenders and their friends to give them better life options than violent crime.

The alliance also allows for better inter-agency intelligence sharing on potentially violent suspects.

According to a 2015 University of Missouri-Kansas City study of NoVA's effectiveness, the program had a rocky start. But by 2014, it was operating effectively.

The study concludes NoVA helped dramatically reduce violent crime in 2014 when there were 78 homicides, a 10-year low.

But the study also found the longer NoVA was in place, the less effective it became.

"I think we're a little early to say that NoVA is a success or a long-term failure, we don't know yet," said FOP President Brad Lemon.

The 41 Action News Investigators asked Forte if NoVA was working on March 10.

"Absolutely, crime is down with those people involved in the network by 10 percent since we started NoVA," he said.

While Forte says the specific repeat violent offenders NoVA has targeted aren't committing as many crimes, Kansas City homicides have skyrocketed from a 10-year low of 78 in 2014 to a 10-year high of 128 last year.

And the city is on pace to break last year's record this year.

James, who's on the NoVA Board of Directors, acknowledges the program has its limits.

"Drive-by shootings, domestic violence, those types of things that NoVA is not able to address," he said.

The NoVA study notes in April 2014, Forte permanently transferred 28 officers from the Patrol Bureau to the Violent Crimes Division and another 30 to investigate gun crimes.

Now with violent crime up and the number of officers below 1,300 for the first time in a decade, 41 Action News wanted to know how NoVA fits into the current KCPD picture.

James at the April Kansas City Police Board meeting said even that board doesn't fully understand NoVA's role.

"This is kind of why telling people what NoVA is doing is important because the board doesn't know," he said.

On March 28, the 41 Action News Investigators sent an open records request to KCPD asking how many officers were assigned to NoVA and any numbers showing its impact.

On April 6, Captain Stacey Graves responded by writing, "KCPD does not have any officers specifically assigned to NoVA, all KCPD officers are part of the community collaboration." 

Graves also wrote, "I am waiting on stats for the remainder of your request."

Almost two months later, the 41 Action News Investigators are still waiting for those stats.

A month ago, the 41 Action News Investigators also requested e-mails and other information to find out more details about NoVA's current status.

On Friday morning, the day before Forte's retirement, Graves informed the 41 Action News Investigators that material had been located, but the Investigators don't have it yet.

A KCPD staffing study due to be released before the end of the month may shed more light on NoVA.

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