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Kansas City set to implement 'focused deterrence' approach to violent crime

Ken Novak
Posted at 5:43 PM, Feb 22, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For almost a year, the community has heard mentions of a tactic called "focused deterrence" when talking about violence prevention in Kansas City, Missouri.

In May of 2023, city and county leaders held a press conference to discuss violence prevention where the approach was discussed among other tactics.

"We can't solve this problem of being tougher and tougher and tougher — toughness is needed,” Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker said. “But arrest and prosecution cannot be where the story begins and ends."

Focused deterrence was a tactic used within the No Violence Alliance program in 2014.

The idea boils down to five key points according to a former researcher of the topic, Ken Novak.

First you have to identify a problem. Ten years ago, Kansas City wanted to bring down the homicide rate, specifically in group settings.

Second, there is a buy-in among city leaders who have an interest in solving the problem. This ranges from community members to the chief of police.

While the program is in place, there should also be constant research to make sure you’re reaching the right individuals.

Novak was among those scholars in 2014 while working at the University of Missouri - Kansas City.

Once you make contact with people who are at risk of being victims or perpetrators of violence, there has to be a genuine offer of support services to pull them out of the situation they are in.

Lastly, if those offers of support aren’t taken or do not help someone who is committing crimes for taking violent actions, then there’s a clear and concise follow through with enforcement.

KSHB 41's Abby Dodge out to the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, for information on the program.

A spokesperson said they are still early in the implementation phase.

The marker of success within NOVA’s focused deterrence approach is touted as teamwork. But, the need for teamwork can also be its downfall.

“Focused deterrence is even more challenging because you have multiple partners involved, all working from different angles, goals, budgets, leadership cycles," Novak said. "And that’s one of the sustainability issues for focused deterrence. That being said, with a solid plan, with an eye toward sustainability, it can be done.”

KCMO hasn’t seen less than 100 homicides since 2014, when leaders used focused deterrence.

While people worked to connect individuals who were at risk of being a victim or suspect of homicides, former KCMO Mayor Sly James said the follow through piece was missing.

“I think one of the cracks that developed over time was the courts really wouldn’t help us out. And I am sure that they won’t be happy about me saying that, but they simply refused to help us out,” James said. “We needed them to come to the table with us and help devise a program that would have gotten gun offenders through a special docket.”

Despite the program's short-lived success, Novak said it was one of the most useful tools for the city that can be replicated again.

James said if leaders can put the people of Kansas City first, citizens could see a reduction in violent crime.

“This isn’t about them. It’s about the city and about getting things done that reduce a terrible problem and a scourge on this city. So that’s the first thing,” James said. “We have to stick together and not run our own agendas and not let our egos get in the way.”

KCPD said the department is still learning what needs to be refined from the previous usage of the tactic before it begins to implement the approach.