Platte, Clay county prosecutors argue violent crimes are connected to drugs, emphasize prosecution

BOPC meeting Aug 31
Posted at 6:07 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-31 19:07:29-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In July, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker presented data to the Board of Police Commissioners (BOPC) that showed the majority of drug cases forwarded to her office aren't violent.

Baker told the BOPC that she will only take drug cases when detectives can show a clear connection to violence or when the case presents a significant community concern.

On Tuesday, Prosecutors Eric Zahnd and Dan White from Platte and Clay counties, respectively showed the BOPC their own information that shows violence and drugs are linked.

Zahnd said data will only answer the question you ask. He posed the question: Are violent crimes related to drugs?

"The answer to that question is unequivocally yes," Zahnd said.

He pointed out he can only speak for Platte county.

Zahnd said 90% of the county's homicides over the last five years were associated with drugs in some way.

He also said 75% of the county's non-domestic assault, robbery and weapons charges were related to drugs in some way.

"So many of our other non-violent and violent crimes are driven by drug abuse, so the real question is 'How do we define what a drug crime is and what drugs are driving in our city?'" Zahnd said.

He and White stressed that they will still prosecute drug crimes because they believe it will prevent further violence.

"We are not going to fix drug addiction by not prosecuting drug offenses," White said.

The two prosecutors said prosecuting drug crimes means the defendant will have the chance to go to drug court, which they tout as a successful program that helps addicts go on to lead productive, drug-free lives.

White said in 2019, Clay County filed 734 drug possession cases and 217 are remaining. Of the 217, 81% were solved with a guilty plea.

"We are having success," White said.

Baker's office analyzed thousands of drug cases going back to 2015.

They took a random sampling of 595 drug cases from 2019 and found that 82 of those cases were violent or involved firearms. And of 276 defendants, 69 of them were violent or involved firearms.

Baker's office responded to the data presented by Zahnd and White at the BOPC meeting.

"I appreciate that the Northland prosecutors noted their appreciation of our data presentation," Baker's office said in the statement. "It also was good to hear the differences between our jurisdictions. We wish to place emphasis on public safety, so we will continue to file drug cases where detectives show us a clear nexus to violence or evidence of a significant community concern."

All three prosecutors agree on one aspect.

"All of us agree prevention is really really important and at the end of the day, the criminal justice system is the last stop on the road," Zahnd said. "There are many other social institutions that can intervene before police get involved."

Zahnd went on to say that keeping our eye on solving violent crime also means addressing drug crimes.

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