KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As Kansas City, Missouri, comes off a record-setting year of homicides and non-fatal shootings, 41 Action News is digging into what's behind the numbers, the people affected, changes ahead and giving the community ways to start working toward a safer community.
The city set records with 176 homicides and 630 non-fatal shootings last year. The homicide total is 23 more lives lost than the prior record, set back in 1993.
The four years from 2017 through 2020 mark the city's most dangerous time period with 616 homicides. Almost 70% of all homicides in Kansas City, Missouri, come from two of the six patrol areas – East and Metro zones. Black males made up more than 60% of homicide victims in 2020.
Years ago, KCPD used a strategy called focused deterrence, which was designed to identify those at risk of being victims of, or committing crime, in the city.
The Kansas City No Violence Alliance, or KC NoVA, was launched in 2013. It brought together police, the prosecutor and federal agencies to collaborate with community partners and offer resources to deter individuals from crime. The following year, Kansas City had a record low homicide rate with 76.
“Once people start understanding that there’s a different way than the way that they’ve been approaching things, that’s when the change starts happening," Andre Carson, a client advocate with KC NoVA, said.
As the years went by, homicide numbers began to increase. In June 2019, KCPD Chief Rick Smith announced a new enforcement strategy to target what he called "trigger pullers." That year ended with 148 homicides, while 2020 ended with 176 homicides.
The community shared collective heartbreak at the number of young people who were killed in 2020.
Anthony Strassle, 16, was shot and killed in the parking lot of a gas station. He was a passenger in a car one morning in September when he was gunned down.
Tyron Payton, 1, died in a triple shooting at E. 33rd and Agnes. The adults in the car drove frantically to a nearby fire station to get help.
LeGend Taliaferro, 4, was killed while sleeping in his own home under a fort made of blankets and pillows. His death prompted a federal effort called Operation LeGend that started in Kansas City, designed to get rampant crime under control.
When asked how she feels about the record number of homicides in the city, KCPD Officer Donna Drake said it is "incredibly sad."
"When you hear 176 homicides, and you think about 176 families that have been affected by violence in our community, in our city, it's so tragic," Drake said. "The second thing I feel is mad. I'm mad about it. I know a lot of people in our community are mad about it. And then the third thing I think is, why?"
41 Action News hosted a town hall conversation with Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas, KCPD Chief Rick Smith and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. When asked who's responsible for addressing crime in the city, they offered this.
Mayor Quinton Lucas: I take my responsibility very seriously, I told your station, I believe I told you that this year's homicide number is, it was a great personal and professional failure to me. And so, I'm here every day in my office to this pandemic trying to find a way we can make our community safer.
Chief Rick Smith: All of the community, the social services the criminal justice system, we needed all the work together to tackle this issue. But most of all, we need strong communities. We need strong neighborhoods. I say this repeatedly as strong neighborhoods have less crime.
Jean Peters Baker: With the people that have been entrusted with, with the responsibility to do it. So that is not on the neighborhoods. It's on us. It's on the three of us on this call, among others, but most importantly the three of us, because we have been given power and authority to carry out this particular role. And so we need a plan.
For people who want to be part of the solution, KCPD shared three ways they can help:
1. If you have a camera on your home or business, register to share that footage with KCPD if needed in an investigation.
2. Utilize the TIPS hotline at 816-474-TIPS. You will remain anonymous. Since the reward increased to $25,000 for tips that lead to an arrest, KC Crimestoppers has paid that reward out 19 times.
3. Volunteer to work with the city, police or the prosecutor through a community advisory board, dedicating time to a community initiative or mentoring.