Citizens Task Force on Violence
Final Recommendations to the Mayor
April 20, 2017
Dear Mayor James,
Throughout 2016, your Citizens Task Force on Violence made an in-depth review of the issue of violence in our community. The mission you gave the Task Force was to “gather facts and data to recommend pragmatic policies and best practices about how we as a city can prevent, address and respond to violence in all its forms, including but not limited to active shooter situations, violence-driven street crime, illegal use of weapons, domestic violence, child abuse and other violent situations.
You selected citizens to serve on this task force from a wide range of backgrounds, rather than subject-matter experts, in order to put a fresh set of eyes on a decades-long community problem.
Your Citizens Task Force held 12 public meetings. Subgroups were formed and additional meetings were held throughout the year. Public testimony, input and queries were recorded. Formal presentations were made to the Task Force by the following organizations:
- The Academy for Integrated Arts
- Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms
- Kansas City Health Department
- Kansas City Law Department
- KC NoVA
- Kansas City Police Department
- Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
Additionally, several community members and organizations gave presentations at two public listening sessions. Written recommendations and ideas were mailed-in, hand delivered and submitted through an online portal established for the Task Force.
In addition to the materials provided by the public and presenters, the Task Force members reviewed the findings and recommendations of the Kansas City, Missouri Commission on Violent Crime from June 2006 and March 2013.
At the conclusion of presentations and listening sessions, the Task Force continued to meet to narrow the focus of the findings and finalize these recommendations.
It is important to note the overarching theme through all the Task Force meetings is that violence is a long-term community problem that will require long-term community solutions. Accordingly, the Task Force has included long-term policy recommendations coupled with short-term tools that can be employed immediately to empower the community to leverage the good work that is already taking place.
There were 127 homicides in Kansas City during 2016. 116 of those homicides involved firearms. These statistics necessitate a robust community dialogue regarding the role guns play in violent crime. Presentations made by the City Attorney’s office and the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms focused exclusively on the issue of guns. The Task Force explored the issue of guns and violence with several of the presenters and much of the public testimony and questions involved firearms.
Despite the prevalence of guns involved with violent crime in our community, state and federal law prevents Missouri cities from enacting any regulations relating to firearms. The Task Force, therefore, did not make any recommendations relating to local firearms ordinances.
Although the Task Force has not made any recommendations regarding local firearms ordinances, we cannot overstate the devastating effect guns have in our community. The proliferation of weapons – both legal and illegal – pose a significant community crisis and we urge you to continue your efforts to advocate for sensible gun regulation at the state and national level. Additionally, we urge city and community leaders to include gun safety and gun education as a key component in public service campaigns and public health initiatives.
The Task Force spent a considerable amount of time learning about and discussing the balance between law enforcement and violence prevention. We acknowledge that law enforcement is a critical component of violence prevention, but we ultimately decided that we must keep our recommendations narrow in scope, in order to ensure swift implementation. That’s why we decided to focus these recommendations on community-based and policy solutions to the chronic problems that create and perpetuate violence, rather than focus on issues specific to law enforcement.
Nonetheless, the Task Force urges you and city leaders to continue to advocate for a fair and equitable criminal justice system. We urge you to support policies that increase cooperation between the courts and law enforcement agencies and support legislative changes that will lead to smart criminal law enforcement and a decrease in the mass incarceration of our citizens. We encourage you to work with law enforcement agencies to create greater cooperation and accountability in support of these goals.
The final recommendations from the Task Force fall under three general categories: policy solutions; community-based solutions; and public engagement and education.
Violence is a long-term community problem and solutions will also take long-term planning, strategies and policy changes. The Task Force was encouraged by existing policies that address the root causes of violence in our community. We encourage the city to continue its focus on addressing vacant and abandoned properties, sustainable economic development in the urban core and programs that create more jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities for all Kansas Citians. In addition, the Task Force believes the following recommendations will further help the city of Kansas City address the chronic, systemic problems that result in violent behavior.
- Fund, develop and implement a comprehensive Youth Master Plan. The purpose of the plan is to effectively coordinate the services, supports and opportunities that youth need to develop and thrive. The plan should include input and coordination between the city, school officials, young people, parents and community organizations.
- Work with our City’s federal Congressional delegation to secure a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study of the recent increase in homicides in Kansas City. The study would allow the CDC to provide epidemiologic assistance and develop programmatic recommendations for a public health response to homicides in the city.
- Pursue state legislation to create interagency domestic violence fatality review teams. Fatality review is a nationally recognized method for understanding how and why people die—the goal of which is to reduce those deaths. Child death review teams operate in nearly all 50 states. Metro area domestic violence agencies currently participate in a voluntary fatality review, but statewide implementation, of a mandatory practice, would garner greater participation from law enforcement and courts and secure better outcomes for the review panel. A well-designed fatality review:
- Recognizes that violent death is a premature and preventable community crisis.
- Convenes a multidisciplinary team of stakeholders who understand the problems of community violence and are committed to solutions.
- Offers solutions that strengthen systems of public health, public safety, and public protections.
- Uses agency involvement and death investigation records to understand the strengths, challenges, and gaps in a community’s response to violence.
- Makes recommendations to enhance community response by highlighting areas of improvement such as training, funding, coordination of services, or changes to policy and procedures.
Agency presentations and community testimony revealed a wealth of programs and resources currently in place that purport to address the issue of violence in Kansas City. It became clear over the course of the year’s presentations that our community has many of the tools in place to address the issue of violence, but better coordination is desperately needed between the existing social service agencies and governmental partners.
The following recommendations are intended to provide tools, staff and funding to leverage the work of evidence-based programs and successful community organizations.
- Create a full-time staff position to coordinate the city’s violence prevention efforts. Ideally, this position would report to the City Manager, Mayor and City Council and coordinate efforts across governmental agencies. In addition to coordination of governmental agencies, this position would also facilitate coalition building and leadership training for existing anti-violence programs and neighborhood leaders. While this position is under development, the city should maintain and expand existing city staff positions within the Neighborhoods and Housing Services Department, Health Department and/or Police Department to provide social workers, community health workers and neighborhood coordinators who can focus on comprehensive violence prevention.
- Establish storefront community resource centers. A homicide investigative analysis provided by the Kansas City Police Department shows the majority of Kansas City’s homicides occur in a concentrated area. Within that map, non-violent areas can be identified in neighborhoods with extremely active community associations and/or neighborhood watch programs. A handful of Kansas City neighborhoods including the Westside and Ivanhoe have seen a reduction in violent crime when active social service agencies, neighborhood associations or community organizations have a brick and mortar community resource center where residents can access a variety of services. Community stakeholders must be engaged to identify needs, resources, location and services for the resource centers and to develop a sustainable plan for ongoing funding of the facilities.
- Establish an electronic database for community resources. Kansas City does not have a single, comprehensive electronic database that contains all current community resources for housing, health issues, employment and general support. There are several organizations that provide a partial list of services or provide referrals for a limited population. These are fantastic tools that could be strengthened through a comprehensive database that is freely and easily accessible to community organizations, law enforcement, government agencies, healthcare providers, social service agencies and the general public.
PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT & EDUCATION
Many of the Task Force presentations and testimony addressed the idea that modern communities are plagued by a “culture of violence. ” Significant public testimony suggested that Kansas City needs to address violence the way we have addressed other public health issues like tobacco use and drunk driving. Additionally, the community needs to create an ongoing conversation about violence and violence prevention. The Task Force urges you to collaborate with other state and local leaders to promote evidence-based violence prevention programs, leverage resources and expertise between intergovernmental and non-profit agencies, and create an ongoing communications strategy that addresses violence throughout the entire community.
- Establish a robust public engagement and mentoring program with Kansas City’s civic and business leaders. Kansas City has a deep bench of strong role models who could lead the charge on a substantive community dialogue about violence prevention. It is recommended that the city facilitate a formal mentoring program that addresses the academics, employment, social and emotional well-being, mental health, risky behavior and conflict resolution of the youth in our community.
- Create a public service campaign to address the culture of violence. Many successful public health efforts have been accompanied by a robust public service campaign. Drunk driving, tobacco use and texting while driving have decreased when accompanied by an aggressive marketing effort. Kansas City has a philanthropic marketing, media and arts community that can be tapped for a creative approach to messaging. Neighborhood leaders, community organizers and youth can be engaged to craft effective messages.
Violence in our community is a symptom of systemic issues that have plagued our society for decades. Reducing violence in our community will require innovative solutions, coordination of resources, a shift in culture and continuous public engagement and support. To that end, we request that you commit to making quarterly reports to the community on your progress regarding implementation of these recommendations.
We understand our work on this Task Force is only part of a larger community effort that must start within our neighborhoods and expand throughout our cities and our nation. We ask you to use these recommendations as tools to help move that community dialogue forward.
Citizens Task Force on Violence, April 2017