Jackson County Prosecutor says KCPD resists new approach to drug crime cases

Eric De Valkenaere charges Jean Peters Baker.png
Posted at 7:38 PM, Jul 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-08 20:38:47-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker sent a letter to the Kansas City, Missouri, Board of Police Commissioners blasting the way KCPD handles drug cases.

"I am encouraging the KCPD to work jointly with us in focusing each agency's resources more effectively on violence rather than resisting these data-informed guidelines," Baker wrote.

The search for a different way to handle drug offenses began last winter as COVID-19 tore through the community. One reason for the project was to help lower the population at the Jackson County Jail during the pandemic.

Baker said her staff conducted a deep dive into the thousands of drug cases sent to her office by KCPD for prosecution.

Those cases – about 1,400 each year – make up the largest number of criminal cases Jackson County prosecutors handle.

"Our analysis showed that our outcomes (and yours) were not tied to public safety, were ineffective, were expensive and were racially inbalanced, therefore, not fairly enforced on this community," Peters Baker said in the letter.

41 Action News previously examined the report from the prosecutor's office, which found that prosecuting drug cases in Jackson County costs about $200 million each year. In addition, the majority of lead charge drug cases in Kansas City are on the east side.

Drug possession cases also came from those same east side neighborhoods.

Baker also stated in her letter the data showed "an alarming pattern of racially disparate outcomes in our city drug enforcement."

She stated that 81% of buy-bust cases involved a Black suspect, while the Black population in the county is 39%.

"Such disparities actually create more public safety concerns," Peters Baker wrote. "As we know, too few victims or witnesses cooperate with the criminal justice system, and few violent crimes are solved and prosecuted.

"In turn, violence escalates. In order for communities to trust the system, that system must actually be fair. Criminal justice studies have documented this phenomenon – arresting and prosecuting in a disparate or unfair way simply delegitimizes our justice system. This type of enforcement system while violence rates soar actually result in less public safety rather than more."

Baker said in the letter her staff met numerous times with department commanders on the new guidelines. Those commanders, shesaid, have been transferred to other areas and the cases submitted recently do not follow those guidelines.

Sgt. Jacob Becchina, a KCPD spokesperson, said those transfers of commanders are conducted on a regular basis throughout the department.

Baker ended her letter with a warning to the police department about how she plans to move forward with drug crime prosecutions.

"I am happy to try to answer questions or present to the board," Baker states in her letter. "But understand this: after months of work and analysis, I will not go back to a system that creates more distrust. I urge KCPD join us in this new effort. Wherever KCPD lands on this important issue, I am not going back to a system that is based on gut feelings, is inefficient and most importantly, unfair."

41 Action News reached out to the police board and the board's attorney but has yet to receive a response.

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